Do Your Remote Audits Bring Strong Value?

Embracing remote auditing can support organisations during unusual times but also in normal operation of the business. When faced with the challenge of remote work like we do now, an organisation has the option of adopting remote auditing or delaying planned audits. The latter might be a short term alternative to avoid the overload on an organisation busy with the implementation of its business continuity plan. However, maintaining the planned audit schedule during a period of major changing working practices and protocols may be a judicious choice. For some organisations, remote auditing has in fact already been at the heart of their normal assessment strategy. These companies know that very well prepared and conducted remote audits can certainly deliver strong value and assist organisations to run the audit function in difficult times.

New technologies have made remote auditing more doable

There are many opportunities in implementing remote auditing but organisations need to ensure the capability of the available resources and adjust a few important things in order to maximise the value they are getting from the virtual audit approach. Several aspects need to be considered in order to support the effectiveness of the remote audit. These include the audit process itself, the infrastructure and the auditor competence.

The credibility of the audit and the audit function is in the spotlight which means that organisations need to prepare and deliver extremely well their virtual approach to audits.

Getting the most out of remote audits requires the organisation to minimise the risks associated with the use of new information and communication technologies. As various remote audit techniques exist, these risks will depend on the approach taken which may vary from simply using surveys for filling out checklists and questionnaires to using  leading edge video techniques for the monitoring of remote or high risk work.

Preparation for a remote audit is key to a successful outcome

Preparing for a remote audit takes longer than usual and is a crucial success factor. Here is a non-exhaustive list of topics that should be taken into consideration during the preparation phase in order to maximise the value of remote audits:

  • Collaborate with the auditee to assess and document the feasibility and the risks of remote auditing. Ensure that the identified risks are mitigated.
  • Write and communicate a remote audit protocol describing the process and the roles and responsibilities of all parties.
  • Document in advance an agreement between the auditor and the auditee about confidentiality, security and data protection issues.
  • Assess what technologies are available on both sides – auditor and auditee – to conduct the remote audit and achieve the audit objectives. Ensure the technologies are agreed upon and tested before the audit takes place.
  • Define what processes are to be audited using which information and communication technology.
  • Determine who needs to be interviewed and when they need to be available. Confirm the appropriate personnel are available and scheduled for the audit.
  • Plan and prepare some strategies that will help put people at ease during the remote audit. Allow for small breaks at regular intervals.
  • Prepare a detailed agenda and formalise each step including opening and closing meetings. Allow for an audit plan review at different stages of the audit and plan for intermediate conclusions reports. Be flexible.
  • Request information from the auditee to be submitted prior to the start of the remote audit to fully prepare the auditor. Gain understanding from the auditee on how records will be pulled and shared.
  • Ensure at least one auditee personnel is dedicated to supporting the audit over the designated period.
  • Ensure web meeting invitations are sent with ample time for each party to plan accordingly.
  • Request a virtual tour of the facility or that a facility overview presentation be provided with pictures, facilities plant and process flow, following the opening meeting. A risk-based assessment should be applied to define the need of this facilities tour and/or which areas are essential to be covered if a complete tour is not feasible.
  • Consider the participation of experts during the remote audit to maximise value.

Perform the audit as closely as possible to an onsite audit

Some adaptations are needed to ensure a smooth  remote audit delivery. These include:

  • Split the remote audit in sections with intervals of a big enough duration for auditee to collect and share documents requested during the audit.
  • Hold opening meetings with appropriate personnel using the communication technology agreed upon.
  • If (ideally) many of the documents and records are made available ahead of time by email or via a website service, then the auditor can proceed upfront with document review. Questions and requests can be made via chat, email, phone, or online web conferencing.
  • If the auditee does not make the documents available for the auditors’ review, then documents and records will need to be shown via the video conferencing tool being utilised. Ensure a quick access to all required documentation.
  • Hold the closing meeting as normal but via the communication tool selected. Ensure that this meeting has been planned and scheduled ahead of time with the proper invitees.

A remote audit is an excellent solution

Performing an audit on-site has its advantages and allows the auditor to examine processes in real-time, conduct a physical tour of the facility, and observe visual clues and non-verbal communication with the audited organisation. However, the current crisis has forced companies to adapt , innovate and utilise other solutions.  A remote audit is an excellent one to allow for business continuity and ensure that critical suppliers and manufacturing sites continue to function within the required state of compliance.

Well prepared and done correctly, a remote audit can be an extremely valuable replacement or addition to on-site audits. By contrast, if a remote audit is not executed correctly, it does more harm than good, because it might provide a false sense of assurance.  Robust preparation and collaboration with the auditee is key to achieve the audit objectives and bring strong value. When asked whether the future will be back to on-site auditing, remote auditing or a mix of these, many organisations already confirmed that it will be the latter…

By Marc Cwikowski
May 25, 2020

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