Arbutus vs ACL. Why we switched.

Arbutus and ACL are both excellent data analysis software products that were specifically developed to empower audit, finance, compliance and IT professionals to implement continuous auditing and continuous monitoring solutions.

ACL has been authored in the late 1970’s while Arbutus was introduced in non-audit markets during 2003. Since 2013 however, these applications started to compete in the same markets. It is interesting that both applications were originally authored by the legendary Grant Brody, a Canadian chartered accountant.

I have been using ACL for longer than 10 years and shaped my career around this product. I started also using Arbutus shortly after it was introduced in the audit market. Although I will continue to use both applications, my company standardised on Arbutus and also distributes Arbutus in Southern Africa.

Here are some of the reasons why we switched to Arbutus:

  • Server technology. Arbutus server is far superior to ACL’s Audit Exchange. Arbutus server uses the same stable technology on both client and server. Files, scripts etc are in the same format and easily migrated without any changes. Arbutus server evolved from the old ACL Server software that Grant Brodie developed when he was still with ACL. ACL server was discontinued by ACL after Brodie left and AX was born on a different database (Postgress).
  • Pricing. In South Africa, Arbutus is very competitively priced and ACL’s EURO based pricing model struggles to compete. In addition, during 2014 ACL went to a subscription only model while Arbutus offer both subscription and perpetual licencing models as well as switching discounts.
  • Legacy Link. As a data analysis consultant I rely significantly on Arbutus Legacy Link that allows me to ODBC connect to Arbutus projects. All my Excel working papers and dashboards connect via ODBC to Arbutus data and update automatically.
  • Arbutus Smart Link for SAP has the distinct advantage that you need no install on SAP. As a consultant, I had instances where I was extracting SAP data within hours after arriving at the client. I am also a roaming ACL Direct Link (DL) licencee and requires on average 2 weeks to get it approved and installed on SAP at clients. However, once installed, DL is a very good product.
  • Functionality. In real life, I can basically do the same in both products when it comes to complex analytics and scripting. Practically, I use Arbutus’ Smart Find (sort of Google inside Arbutus) daily while ACL does not have this. I do, however, prefer ACL’s log.
  • The Future. Many analysts compare the two companies’ size and questions whether Arbutus can compete over the long term. Besides the fact that Arbutus grew significantly, I believe this is a wrong comparison. ACL markets solutions in analytics, GRC, Cloud and other areas. Arbutus focuses solely on Analytics. I believe a more appropriate comparison is Arbutus vs the ACL Analytics department in ACL. Then there is Grant Brodie who has been shaping the future of audit analytics more than anybody else in history and will probably continue to do so. Personally I am not overly concerned for either of these companies. However, I am wondering if ACL might be in a profit squeeze due to its size and pricing.

In summary, pricing, stability and connectivity saw us switching to Arbutus. After the first year I still stand by our decision. Well done Arbutus for bringing healthy, solid competition to this niche market!