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How Data Analytics Opens Opportunities

IDEA User Shares How His Knowledge of Data Analytics Helped Him Rise to the Top

Technology impacts our lives. It has the capacity to make the world feel smaller, and make us feel more connected. Very early in my career, I realized the importance of embracing and learning to use technology in my work would generate opportunities. What I didn’t realize is the magnitude of its impact.


Getting Started


Like many young professionals, I graduated from college and went to work for a Big 10 accounting firm. The prospect of working for a well-known firm on Madison Avenue in New York was exhilarating, but like many young professionals, I started at the bottom. My job on audit engagements was to follow instructions, work long hours and resist the urge to complain. I stuck with it to fulfill my professional plan of working my way to the top and gave 110% every day.

One audit engagement involved working with a senior auditor who performed his work on a laptop – something that was rare in the mid-90s. He was somewhat ahead of his time and I paid close attention. He was one of the very few auditors using Computer Assisted Audit Techniques (CAATs). Other auditors were still footing large journals, locating transactions manually and testing a small fraction of financial information. There simply wasn’t time nor the budget to do more, and we were working at a snail’s pace in a data-rich environment that seemed to be growing exponentially.


Introduction to CaseWare IDEA®


The senior auditor using CaseWare IDEA was on to something. He was using IDEA to import client general ledgers and foot the totals. He imported the accounts receivable report for the entire year, totaled the amounts and compared it to the physical copy. Once he knew he had the entire data population, he aged the database and performed all types of queries on the data. He was completing engagements in a fraction of the time, and I was blown away.

While I may have been a bit green, I did immediately see the value in avoiding the manual process of sifting through thousands of journal pages and having to foot client journals and search for anomalies. If there was a tool I could use to save days of work and free me to focus on more meaningful tasks, there was no reason not to learn how to use it.

At that time, IDEA ran on MS-DOS, so there was no graphical user interface. We didn’t even use a mouse. Commands such as importing, sorting, extracting, aging, and joining were executed using typing commands. I began using IDEA to import files, total or foot key amounts, and perform aging analysis. As a result, my engagements were reduced from days to hours. Management took note of the efficiency I was achieving. Armed with a laptop, I was sent out on client engagements to work with the IT staff to obtain the required files and perform audits. The lower-level work was behind me, and I could immediately see how developing my skills using data analytics was pushing me forward. The more experience I gained, the more valuable I became. This new skill set was propelling me into a direction I never anticipated.

I became an IDEA advocate. I was eager to broaden my use of CAATs and share the benefits I was discovering with anyone who would listen. It was a game-changer and I championed the use of data analytics on all client engagements that had large amounts of auditable data within their systems.

I attended regional conferences and began speaking about data analysis to help share what I had learned. Watching fellow professionals see the value and time savings IDEA offered was extremely rewarding. The ability to automate testing, get accurate results and analyze the entire data population quickly built a groundswell of support for using data analytics among the audit community.

IDEA for DOS circa 1995
Figure 1. IDEA for DOS circa 1995


Opportunity Overseas


In 1998 my life took an unexpected turn when I traveled to Norway on vacation and fell in love. Without knowledge of Norwegian procedures, language or practices, I was declined for an office transfer, but I didn’t let that stop me.

I came across an article in a paltry tech newsletter written for auditors that featured a story about an audit manager in Oslo Norway who was using IDEA to conduct more efficient engagements. The IDEA connection opened a door for, which led to a new opportunity to work with the Nordic IDEA distributor. My new role expanded beyond audit into sales, training, technical support, and marketing. The work was both challenging and rewarding, and I was able to help clients expand their own skills in using data analytics to add more value to their work. I showed them how to save time, and become more precise and strategic in their approach to auditing. They gained confidence in analyzing 100% of the data population and understanding their client data. One of my responsibilities was to listen to our clients, understand their challenges and provide them with specific data analytics to address those needs.

In 2004 after my contract ended, I remained in Norway and changed careers. Periodically I was hired as an IDEA consultant or trainer, and one of those projects took me to the Caribbean. I worked in St. Vincent & The Grenadines, and later in the Bahamas. My work evolved into assisting the Auditor General to implement IDEA into their fieldwork and train their auditors, which gave me the opportunity to travel and help expand the use of IDEA while earning a healthy salary.


Journey Back to the States


Ultimately I left the profession and began a new career, where I experienced both successes and failures. While there were valuable lessons to be learned from my failures, I was not ready to receive them. My personal struggles led me back to pursuing a career in the U.S. In 2016, I left my family behind to carve out a new future in the States and get back to the business of helping auditors. Although I was unsure whether my 10-year absence from the audit profession might hold me back, I spent the next few months pouring through my old notes and reading articles about data analytics. I even installed an older version of IDEA to reacquaint myself with the software.

In the meantime, I solicited testimonials from previous engagements and in doing so, the Auditor General of the Bahamas asked me to hold training classes to help their auditors learn to use IDEA. Even after a decade of stepping away from using data analytics, my skills were still in high demand.

I arranged a meeting with the U.S. distributor of IDEA, Carolyn Newman with Audimation Services and expressed my interest in joining an organization that shared my enthusiasm for IDEA. I craved the opportunity to not only share my knowledge and experience but to expand my skills and become a better practitioner. It was also an opportunity to help others as I was once invited to do early on in my career. Today I’m working with Audimation Services to help expand the use of IDEA and help other professionals grow in their use of data analytics. I hope to give them a greater sense of confidence over their client’s data and methodologies used to test that information.

Learning IDEA all those years ago was the genesis for all of that, which led me to where I am today. I’m grateful for the extraordinary opportunities IDEA has provided me, both personally and professionally. It has been an adventure that I look forward to sharing with others.

Best Practices , CaseWare IDEA

Posted By

By Sarah Palombo
Sarah Palombo founded Avery Public Relations in 2007 and took on Audimation Services as her first client. She has more than 20 years of experience developing communications programs and creating content.

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