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Tips on Acquiring Data

Tips on Acquiring Data

An IDEA User Shares Frequent Practices

There is a simple white coffee mug, emblazoned with “I ♥ SPREAD SHEETS” that sits upon Rubik Yeriazarian’s desk at Briggs & Veselka. He bought it years ago, and it has gathered a lot of attention over the years.

While Yeriazarian uses Excel reports because of the familiarity and transparency of the software to others, he understands there are several avenues to navigate before getting the right data and exporting the results.

Briggs & Veselka launched a data analytics division in 2016 and provides services to both public and private sector clients with a mix of accounting or financial systems including QuickBooks, Microsoft Dynamics and Sage. As a senior manager at Briggs & Veselka, Yeriazarian has discovered there are three methods for reaching the data:

  • “The files are in the computer!” In the movie Zoolander, the characters physically attack a computer to get the files. If we could just shake the internal or system data out of the computer, that would be efficient, right?!?!
  • Begging IT for help is another method, which typically requires a fair amount of explanation, waiting and knowledge of how the data is stored.
  • Then there’s the “go around,” which is the rare instance when auditors are granted permission to pull their own data.

Once you finally receive the data, how do you know if you received all the data you need? If you’ve ever run a dataset and found that you’re missing information, you must revisit one or more of the above-listed methods to get what you need. Isn’t it just easier if you can pull the data yourself?

One common objective for audit is to determine how to prevent certain importing issues by requesting specific financial reports from the various accounting systems used by the company or clients. These can include difficult datasets and reports that have moved from one software to another, and let’s not forget that everyone has different legacy systems. IDEA reads these datasets and can merge and join them from other systems to make one reportable file. Some common pitfalls in importing may be resolved through saving the file to a different software source. Below are pitfalls and advantages of several types of data, with the advantages brought to you for data cleansing and analysis through IDEA.

 

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Excel Icon
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Advantages

Smaller File Size

No Limit on Report Length

CSV Can Be Opened in Excel for Review or Manipulation

Easy to Check Fields

East to Review & Check Figures

Smaller File Size - Easier to Send & Receive

No Limit on Report Length

CSV Can be Opened in Excel for Review or Manipulation


Pitfalls with Other Products

No Check Figures within the File (potentially)

Shifting field position on subsequent pages

Limited Headers / Fields Based on What You Can See on the Report

Million Row Limit

Older Systems Can Only Export to .xls

Data exports with merged cells

Choosing a Delimiter

No Check Figures within File (potentially)

CSV Files Can Only Preview what Excel Allows (1 million rows)

 

Data Dictionary

Another point Rubik shared was his use of Data Dictionaries. These can be used to “speak the language” of the underlying system, which is helpful when looking for the right files yourself or working with IT to request specific data. Supported IDEA users can access a Data Dictionary within the IDEAScript Vault.

Data dictionaries can help you get to the know the data, including the reasoning behind how it is stored and categorized. Every ERP system has a data dictionary, and most can even be found online or provided by the IT department. Many of the Audimated Apps within the IDEA Marketplace contain lists about what data is needed to perform tests or routines. These can save significant time and prevent the back-and-forth of getting the right data.

 

3 Ways to Import Difficult Datasets & Reports into IDEA

Regardless of the data source, there are a few avenues you can take to organize, normalize and prepare data to be uploaded into IDEA for analysis. However, there are a few well-known pitfalls you’ll need to sidestep along the way:

Export to Excel

While few question Excel’s accessibility and familiarity, it does have capacity issues (row limitations) and older systems can only export to .xls. Merged or hidden cells can also require additional steps to unravel. However, Excel makes it easy to check fields and review check figures. 

Export to Text

When working with text files, choosing a delimiter can become troublesome. In most cases, you cannot check figures within the file, and previews are often limited. Text files are easier to send and receive, can be opened in Excel for review and are not limited in length.

Export to PDF

Some of the more common pitfalls of working with PDFs are the limitations of headers/fields based on what you’re able to see within the report (width). Field positions can shift on subsequent pages, allowing the data to essentially misalign. Similar characters can be mistaken for one another such as 8 and B, 5 and S or I and 1. There is also no way to check figures within a file. On the upside, PDFs offer the same advantages as Text files including smaller file sizes that are easy to send and receive, no limits on the report length and CSV files can be opened in Excel for review or manipulation. 

 

Third-Party Resources

(When All Else Fails)

Luckily there are some resources you can try if your data importing process has gone awry:

PerfectAudit/Ocrolus

The system analyzes PDF statements from U.S. financial institutions.

ScanWriter

This data entry automation tool converts bank and credit card statements, bills and receipts into QuickBook entries.

Data Import Experts

Audimation Services offers complete, secure and fast data importing services including:

  • Data requests including defining and accessing data sources of all types
  • Merging files from different formats and databases
  • Cleansing and normalizing data to prepare it for importing into IDEA
  • Working with large or complex data types

 

Data Integrity

Data Integrity is the most important point. Sometimes it takes several trips to IT, or you may have to clean a database for visualization or democratization. You may have to trap PDFs or fight the date order in QuickBooks. All these steps must be taken to reach your independent opinion. A clean analysis and solid reporting make the effort worth the effort, and Audimation is here to help if you find yourself at an impasse.

Information for this article was sourced from a presentation by Rubik Yerazarian, Senior Manager, Briggs & Veselka during the 2017 IDEA Innovations Conference in Houston. Briggs & Veselka provides forensic accounting and litigation support services.

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Jennifer Randles
Jennifer Randles

Jennifer Randles

Industry Research Analyst, Audimation Services

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