At this point, you will have come up with the objective, pulled the data, and spent some time preparing and normalizing the information — now it’s time to analyze the data. Once you run the tests, you may or may not understand the results. Your best resource to understand the results will likely be the people you are auditing. If it is appropriate, you can take the results back to the data owners for help understanding the output. That this may not always be appropriate, especially if this is for a fraud examination.
Also keep in mind that it may take more time and more data to determine an outcome, especially if you’re testing for trends over an entire fiscal year or longer. Don’t get discouraged if at first you’re not seeing the expected analytic answer.
One of the most critical factors in reporting results is knowing your target audience. Reporting to the board versus a process owner will be very different. Your reporting should help achieve the desired actions that need to be taken — you can provide more detailed reporting to a control or process owner that could drive action plans, while reporting a more succinct analysis to senior management to raise positive or negative trends across the enterprise. In addition, be careful not to overwhelm management with excess information. Always present summary information and provide any details as an appendix to the summary.
Applying the five steps above will go a long way in overcoming a fear of data. No matter where you are in your data analytics journey, consider how introducing an analytics process can impact your audit team’s testing. Adding analytics to your audit program improves testing effectiveness by testing entire populations instead of random or judgmental sampling, which provides greater assurance.