TeamMate Solutions ReBlog: 5 critical steps to applying data analytics

Consistently seen across available literature are five common steps to applying data analytics:

  1. Define your Objective
  2. Understand Your Data Source
  3. Prepare Your Data
  4. Analyze Data
  5. Report on Results

Each of the steps are critical and each step has challenges. Understand and overcoming the challenges requires a deeper look into each step…

Toby DeRoche, a Market Consultant with TeamMate, outlines how auditors can think more deeply about the five steps to effectively analyzing and reporting on data. Read more here!

Accountability and Media Data Wonk Featured

Harvard Business Review RePost: The data-driven case for vacation

We love reading blogs on productivity research, but one of our running jokes is how each article gives you a list of three more things you have to be doing to be successful. You read three articles and you now have nine more “to-dos” each day. But the conclusion of this article and all of our research isn’t complicated: Go on vacation. If you take all your vacation days and plan ahead for trips, you will increase your happiness, success rate, and likelihood of promotion, and you’ll lower your stress level to boot.

So here’s one easy takeaway for you: Go away.

Break out the sunscreen, plan out your road trip, decide between a relaxing beach holiday or an invigorating week hiking through one of our gorgeous national parks- doesn’t matter! It’s time to get out of the office. It’s summertime, and that means it’s time to take a vacation!

HBRdogpoolOr rather, that’s what it meant in 1978. Unfortunately for many working Americans, vacation time seems to be slowly going the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon. American workers are taking approximately 1/3rd less vacation time than they were taking in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and the decline shows few signs of reversing course. Our more technologically advanced and uber-efficient workplaces have not translated to having more free time.

Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan over at Harvard Business Review lay out of the case for taking that free time, for your own personal good as well as the good of your business or place of work. Of course, not all vacations are created equal. To really get the full benefit of time off, HBR recommends:

…if you plan ahead, create social connections on the trip, go far from your work, and feel safe, 94% of vacations have a good ROI in terms of your energy and outlook upon returning to work. Just make sure you plan the trip at least a month in advance, as one of the key predictors of vacation ROI is the amount of stress caused by not planning ahead….

Read more here!

Interested in other Harvard Business Review offerings? Check it out here!

Accountability and Media Data Wonk Featured

Stats in Auditing: Retirement, income replacement rates, and non-linear relationships

Are you saving enough for retirement? Maybe you have given this question some serious thought. Then again, maybe not… According to research cited in a recent GAO audit report on retirement security, a large portion of workers in the United States have not done a whole lot in terms of retirement planning and many people don’t know how much they should be saving.

Data Wonk Featured Stats in Auditing

Methods (to our Madness): A 2 Minute Primer on IT Auditing, Through the Lens of an Employment Audit

Periodically, we will highlight some of the methods used in a recently released audit. Every performance audit is unique and can require creative thinking and methodologies to answer our audit objective. Some of these methods could be replicated or present valuable lessons for future projects.

Given some of Oregon’s high profile computer system failures, the global risk of IT security and the age of some Oregon agencies’ legacy computer systems, it is easy to see the importance of the Secretary of State’s team of Information Technology (IT) auditors. But what exactly do IT auditors do?

Here are some lessons learned and basic steps taken in IT auditing that I learned from Erika Ungern, Principal Auditor, and Matthew Owens, Senior Auditor in a conversation about their recently released IT audit, which found that computer programs for unemployment tax returns and claims at the Oregon Employment Department need attention.

When doing an IT audit, always test the data

In the Oregon Employment Department audit, the audit team followed a typical process for IT audits, including identifying the computer systems to evaluate, examining the process and expected controls of those systems, and testing the data to make sure that the systems were operating as intended.

When I asked the team if they always do the final step of testing the data, their faces lit up. (I’m not sure if it was due to the excitement of thinking about data or shock that I would even ask such a question). They replied in near unison that yes, you always have to test the data. Even if everything looks good on paper, the only way you can know if a system is working is to test it.

Compared to an ideal world, the Department’s computer systems fell short

COBIT and FISCAM are two criteria frameworks that describe an ideal world for government IT systems. IT auditors can measure a computer system against these frameworks to identify areas for improvement.

When IT auditors do this, they look at different points in the system and the controls that they would expect to find at each point. They look at the inputs. What is supposed to get into the system? They look at what the system does. How does it process or manipulate the data? And they look at the output. What happens at the end? Is there a report? Is the data transferred to another system? Or, as is the case here, is the output hundreds of millions of dollars in payments for unemployment claims?

At each point, they look for controls, or processes and checks built into the system or staff operations, that can prevent, detect or correct errors and ensure accuracy. For example, system “edits” are intended to ensure that unemployment insurance claims are not paid to recipients whose claim applications were denied.

The audit team looked at two of the Department’s systems and found that they were set up to handle routine claims and to process most employer tax payments automatically. However, the systems were old. Changes were not well documented and workarounds had been developed. Sometimes the team had to look at the computer code to understand what was going on. Uncorrected system problems could lead to some tax returns bypassing automated checks or requiring manual verification. The team proceeded to the next step to test the data and find examples of cases that were bypassing the system.

Data testing created an example for the Department to replicate

Employers submit unemployment insurance tax return data in two ways, one at the detailed employee wage level and one at the summary payroll level. The audit team took these two data sources and performed various analyses. In one instance, the audit team recalculated taxable wages to identify employers who may have under-reported (or over-reported) taxable wages, which in turn led to under or overpaying unemployment taxes. This analysis was so useful that the Department asked the audit team for a step-by-step explanation (see below) so that they could replicate it.

Finding million dollar issues now could save even more during a busy recession

Based on this analysis, the team found that nearly 2,000 employers had overpaid taxes by approximately $850,000 in 2014 and had not been notified. One non-profit overpaid by $17,000. They also found potentially $2.9 million in underpayments that had not been collected. While these amounts are a small portion of the overall tax collections, they could increase dramatically when unemployment increases, such as during a recession. Additionally, as evidenced by the non-profit example, missing these errors could have a large impact on small employers.

The Employment Department was not catching these discrepancies because they were not looking at generated reports they may have been able to help them identify these issues.

Lessons learned: document as you go along

When I asked the team what lessons they had learned, they told me to document the steps you are taking as you do your data analysis. Hm, I think I have heard that advice before.

Breaking down the methodology

Here is a step-by-step look at how the team analyzed the data for incorrect unemployment insurance tax payment:

  1. The team took individual wage data and created a calculated field that rerecorded any amount of wages over $35,000 as $35,000 (since $35,000 was the taxable limit). Any value under $35,000 retained its original value.
  2. They summarized the data to get a total of calculated taxable wages for each employer.
  3. They filtered the table to show only taxable employers.
  4. The team then compared the taxable wages field with another field of payroll reported by employers. To do this, they created a new field that subtracted the taxable wages from the payroll field.
  5. They followed up on the results for any employer where the difference was greater than one dollar.
  6. They calculated a potential overpayment or underpayment of taxes using the employer’s assigned tax rate.




Caroline Zavitkovski, OAD Senior Performance Auditor, MPA

Auditing and Methodology Data Wonk Featured IT Audit

How To: Use Excel’s Named Cell Range Feature

Developing formulas can be tricky at times when you are dealing with Excel’s built in cell references (e.g. tabname!$J$5:$J$356). You may know where in the spreadsheet this information is and what it describes, but you always need to spend time going back and forth between different tabs to pull the reference in or copying it from another cell. That can take a lot of valuable time.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just call data by its own name? Such as “PayrollHours” or “AR” for accounts receivable. Well you can. Formulas don’t need to look like this:

The first step is accessing Excels named range feature. And as with everything there are a couple of ways to do this. The easiest is to highlight the cell or range you want to name. Then look to the top left of the spreadsheet and you should see a little box with a cell reference in it. It is just to the left of your formula bar and looks like this:


Click in the box (shown as V8 above) and rename that to anything you want. For example, I renamed this reference “Apple”. Now in the formula bar you can type “Apple” anywhere you would normally put a cell reference and Excel will know exactly what data to pull in there.

Say you are a financial auditor and want to conduct a ratio analysis. You can go through the balance sheets and various financial documents and rename all the important cells to the terms you are used to. For example, call the cell that contains current assets “Assets” and current liabilities “Liabilities”. Now in Excel you can type in the current ratio by just entering “=assets/liabilities”.

The other way of naming references is to use the name manager on the Formula tab of the ribbon.


Click on new to create a new name. Enter the name and whether it applies to the whole workbook or just that single tab. You can also add a comment to document what it is you are defining.


On the bottom, you can adjust what individual cell or ranges you are referencing. Click the little box with the arrow to select them manually.

Now you have the tools available to change your formulas to look like this:

The formula is now much easier to understand.  It is summing (adding) all payroll hours. The formula breaks out the totals by location, classification, and pay code. To learn more check out this website.

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Enjoy reading our ‘how to’ posts? Subscribe to the Oregon Audits blog through the ‘Follow’ link in the right hand sidebar and keep tabs on the latest data wonk tips and tricks, audit releases, interviews, and more!

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How To: use Excel shortcuts to save you time and be more productive

Excel is a great tool for auditors, but oftentimes we do not utilize the shortcuts and other tools available to increase our productivity. This post will focus on some shortcuts I use to be more efficient.

My favorite and most used shortcut is auto filling formulas. Make sure you read the post on relative and absolute referencing or else you might make a critical error when auto-filling formulas.

Data Entry Tips


CTRL+D, =SUM formula

To auto-fill a formula down, you can use the command CRTL + D. First, enter the formula you want to apply in the topmost cell of the column you are working in. Highlight the cell with the formula and all the other cells you want filled in. Now hit CTRL + D and the formula will now be applied to all of those cells. If you are working left to right in a spreadsheet, the same approach can be used with CTRL + R.

A helpful trick when working with big datasets is to use CTRL + Arrowkey to jump to the end of a row or column. To highlight those cells use CTRL + SHIFT + Arrowkey. If you keep holding SHIFT, but drop CTRL, you can modify the selection using arrow keys. For example, you can deselect the row or column label.

Excel has a handy shortcut if you work with dates and times. To enter today’s date simply hit CTRL + semicolon. For the current time hit CTRL + Shift + colon.

For a long time I could never get Excel to work nicely with adding another row of text to a cell. I would turn on text wrapping and add in spaces until the text I wanted dropped down a line. Quite an inefficient process. Save yourself time and use ALT + ENTER to put a return space.


Switch cell formats to currency by hitting CTRL + SHIFT + $. To change it to text/General use CTRL + SHIFT + ~. For Percentages use CTRL + SHIFT + %. For numbers, CTRL + SHIFT + !. For Dates, CTRL + SHIFT + #. Want to switch to accounting format? Send Microsoft an email requesting that a shortcut feature be added, because right now there is no shortcut and you’ll need to use the manual process. The quickest way is to pull up a cell format dialog box using CTRL + 1.

To auto-sum fields you have entered use ALT + =. Select either a cell below a column or row needing summation.

Inserting rows and columns can be done by highlighting either an entire row or column and then hitting CTRL + SHIFT + =.

Editing Cell Formulas

If you select a cell and hit F2, Excel switches you to editing the cell formula. This is a great shortcut rather than having to go to the ribbon each time. One of the most important changes you can make is switching between absolute and relative references using F4.

F3 is handy if you use named ranges in complex formulas. This command will pull up the named range dialog box.

Reviewing worksheets

One of the best ways to review worksheets is to inspect the formulas used to calculate various fields. You can access this option using the ribbon, but a quick CTRL + ` (the one above tab not the ‘ next to the Enter key). Just enter the command again to turn formulas off.


Use CTRL+TAB instead

You can switch between worksheets by using CTRL + TAB to go to the next worksheet or CTRL + SHIFT + TAB to go back a worksheet.

 Other useful shortcuts

We probably all use CTRL + V to paste, but did you know CTRL + ALT + V allows you to quickly paste special? Paste special is great for removing formatting copied from other documents or transposing data.

Turn auto-filter on and off with CTRL + SHIFT + L.

Auto-updating charts

You can tie charts directly to data ranges. If you compile an annual report, creating charts that auto-update can save you a lot of time. Read more about this process in Stephanie Evergreen’s most recent blog post.


By using one or more of these tips above you will become more efficient in conducting your audit work and before no time you will be the next Excel super user in your office.

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor


Enjoy reading our ‘how to’ posts? Subscribe to the Oregon Audits blog through the ‘Follow’ link in the right hand sidebar and keep tabs on the latest data wonk tips and tricks, audit releases, interviews, and more!

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Evergreen Data Reblog: State of the Union 2016 Slideshow

“Dudes, the State of the Union is my Superbowl. I look forward to this event like some people anticipate the Oscars. This is my deal. Why? Because the enhanced version of the SOTU features a data-based slideshow, a perfect study in how graphics can help underscore a point. And, as every year, the White House graphic design team hits some out of the park and strikes out on others.”


SOTU example of using data to illustrate a point

Read more here from the wise and very entertaining data wizard Stephanie Evergreen and her “review” of the State of the Union 2016 address (or rather, the graphics used during the SOTU speech). Evergreen is widely regarded as a master of simple and digestible data visualization using a basic Excel program. She also shares useful how-to’s that anyone who works with data (not just auditors) can understand and start applying to their own work.

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