At the annual ACL user conference (Connection 2017) the recurring theme was “Being Sought After”. Employees who are sought after are recognized by senior management. In the case of ACL users, this means their ability to use analytics to identify and assess risk, detect fraud and improve operational efficiency and effectiveness. Clearly, if you can do that, not only will you bring value to the organization, but also to your career. But how does one become sought after. Simply having the ability to perform analytics is not sufficient.
The following presents a road map of sorts that can be used to get you from where you are to where you want to be – sought after.
Set Goals and objectives. Becoming sought after starts with a clear definition of your goals and objectives; and a marrying of these with the organization’s goals and objectives. Next, develop performance measures. These initial steps will ensure that your efforts are focused on what will bring the most value to the organization and that you are able to measure and assess progress toward the attainment of your goals and objectives. Treat your “sought after” journey as a project, with you as the project leader and clearly defined objectives and milestones.
Obtain Management Support. Obtaining management support for your goals and objectives will start the process that leads to being sought after. Initially, the best you may get is management not being a hindrance. Search for a champion/mentor who can help you to conquer organizational obstacles while publicizing initial successes. If you are lucky, you will receive support in terms of time, effort, and resources. If not, “you can always find time to do the things you really want” will have to do. I have often espoused “it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”.
Enhance your Ability. While you may not possess everything you need to fully accomplish your goals and objectives, you must have the technical, process and resources to start you on the journey. Technical requirements include: a computer that can handle large amounts of data; software that can access, read, cleanse, and analyze data files from various sources; and an ability to understand how risk, fraud, and business processes use and are impacted by data.
Build Relationships. If you have not already done so, you will need to build and maintain relationships throughout the organization. This includes not only in IT, but also internal control, compliance, risk and operational areas that may be impacted by your analysis results. Make it clear than your objectives are not to find and report on errors, but to assess and improve on risk management, controls, and operations. Encourage them to be part of the process, by sharing you discoveries and insights. Seek their advice and functional and operation knowledge. Give them credit when you succeed and avoid casting blame when you don’t. If you are part of the internal audit organization, they may be skeptical of your motives – let them know that you are aware this might be the case and set the ground rules for how you will interact with them. At the same time, you must maintain your independence.
Maintain your Credibility. Unfortunately, credibility can be hard to earn and easy to lose. Before relying on the results of an analysis perform extra steps to verify the integrity of the data, the analysis performed, and the interpretation made. Wherever and whenever possible validate with source documents and functional experts in the area (the people with whom you have developed a relationship). Move cautiously as you seek to validate your results. Admit when you make and mistake – and learn for it; admit when you “don’t know” – and then find the answer. People will respect you for your honesty and commitment to get to the truth.
Track Performance. The performance measures that were established when you started this project should be tracked consistently and results (good or bad) reported back to your champion and senior management. Don’t try to bury areas where performance is poor – sometimes others may be able to help if they know there are issues. When reporting poor performance, couple that with your plans on how to improve performance. Highlight the successes and lessons-learned from the failures.
Promote your Capabilities. As your ability to access and analyze data increases, you will need to promote the benefits and your skills to others. Initially, auditors working on their own audit projects may be reluctant to spend the time required to work with you to get the data they need. Start in areas when you access to, and understanding of, the data is best. This will allow you to quickly provide support and not introduce delays in the audit process. This requires that you fully understand the audit process, the objectives of specific audits and how data analysis can help. Don’t forget your relationships that are outside of your function area. Are there ways you can support them – perhaps by pointing out information sources or analysis techniques that will bring value to them. Don’t worry about getting credit for your contribution – it will be repaid later when you need their help.
Encourage the use of Analytics. The promoting on analytics is a “push” type of activity. You should also encourage “pull”. This is when people independently approach you and ask if you “can help with …”. They will often have their own ideas of what is required and what they want to see as an outcome. Work with them to ensure you meet not only their requirements, but also enhance their understanding of the possible.
Be Available and Responsive. When people either accept your offer of assistance or seek out your help, you have to deliver on your promises. This means that you must be available and responsive to their requirements. Managing expectations will be important as some things that seem easy may in fact be difficult. Accessing a system for the first time could take months: obtaining the necessary authority and approval, ensuring you meet security and legal requirements, accessing and developing and understanding of the application system and the data – all take time. Be realistic in your time estimates and clearly define what you are being asked to do and what you will deliver.
Be Agile and Creative. Initially, you probably have ideas of systems and analysis that will benefit the organization. Don’t be satisfied with what you know – seek out additional approaches, techniques, and capabilities. Take training, join user groups, attend user conferences and perform active research. Use the relationships you have built to keep abreast with changing information sources, operational requirements and risks.
Share and Transfer Knowledge. Part of promoting your capabilities and building relationships includes the sharing of what you have learned. Too often people try to tightly hold what they know because of a mistake believe that information is power. If only you have the information – people will have to come to you to get it. This approach will isolate you from others who also have information and will create silos. Instead, be seen as someone who readily shares information and knowledge. Others will be grateful to receive your input and will be more willing to share what they know with you. As result, you will have even more knowledge and be known as someone that can be trusted and who adds value (i.e. you will be sought after).
Resilience and Change. Change is rapid and constant. Your knowledge of today’s risks, controls and operations will not be sufficient tomorrow. However, the lessons you learned along the way will make it easier. Relationships you have developed can help you start the process of getting access and developing an understanding of the new system much easier. Techniques, approaches, tools, and resources you used before should be carefully maintained spo that they are ready for the next challenge.
Reassess, Refine and Improve. There is no destination – only the journey. Your initial goals, objectives and performance measures should be examined on a frequent basis (at least quarterly). Not only to report on progress, but also to make adjustments to address the current environment. Improvement should be a constant focus.
Maintain Independence. The more you become sought after, the more people will want access to your time and knowledge. You will have to ensure that the extent to which you support people external to your group does not interfere with your ability to deliver on your job’s requirements. Further, if you are part of the internal audit function, you will have to be careful not to become part of the control framework. You can respond to the VP Finance or Controller’s request as long as you do not become a control that they rely upon. Before this happens, transfer the knowledge, analysis tool, logic, etc. to finance so that they can do it themselves.
Conclusion. I hope this gives you some insights into what it takes to “become sought after”. It may take a long time so take the path less travelled sometimes and be sure to enjoy the journey.