Many businesses have embraced high-tech strategies to continue operations remotely in this period of the Covid-19 Pandemic and one of the business processes that can be successfully done remotely is auditing. Audits are usually used for a variety of reasons, like assessing compliance with standards, regulations, and guidance; adherence to requirements and specifications; evaluating process and system performance, and so on. Seeing its importance to ensuring business objectives are met, one can say the show must go on irrespective of the circumstances and so remote auditing cannot be avoided.
Auditors, especially management system auditors, need to embrace this viable alternative to the traditional on-site audit by employing latest trends without disregard for global best practices in conducting a successful audit exercise. Also known as an e-audit, this process involves using electronic means to remotely obtain audit evidence and evaluate it objectively in order to determine the extent of conformity to the audit criteria.
Here, you can still conduct document and record review, take tours of the environment of operations, interview workers and present your findings by using a wide range of technology platforms like; live web streaming technology such as Zoom cloud meetings, MS Teams, GoToMeetings, smartphone or tablet apps with video capabilities like WhatsApp or FaceTime.
However, barriers to conducting remote audits exist like;
- Lack of involvement of process owners who are unavailable due to several sometimes unverified virtual engagements and lack of attention from the auditees due to pop up distractions while the audit is being conducted.
- Lack of trust in the audit due to the possibility of hidden audit evidences and other issues that could have been picked when physically present.
- Issues with technology which is one of the major challenges of this alternate method. Poor network connections, non-access to some secured database to show evidence and so on could mar this success of this method.
These challenges however do not hinder the benefits of a remote audit which majorly includes;
Reduction of time and money because with the use of technology most audit evidences and data, if not all, will be accessible from anywhere using any cloud portal. This also means the logistics related to auditing are not needed anymore and the auditor will be free from traveling to “dangerous” locations or restricted locations.
With this understanding, the following strategies can be implemented to carry out a successful audit process;
Understand the Organization – The first question the auditor needs his audit client to answer is If Remote Audit is a Good Fit for Their Company? The answer to this question will show how well the business processes can be remotely mapped and the availability of all the technical equipment needed to conduct a successful remote audit. It will also show how well prepared the process owners are in audit rules and behaviours. At this point issues like how remote are the auditors going to be will be clarified and will help you as an auditor create a flexible audit plan.
Strategic Planning – In order for a remote audit to work, there needs to be 100 percent buy-in from the top management of your audit client. This will ensure strategic planning and goal setting with deadlines that are important for keeping the audit on track.
Strategic communication plan before, during and after audit – there needs to be clear and consistent communications from both parties so it is advised to set up a weekly recurring phone call or better yet, a video conference with the audit client to check on the status of open items, answer questions and address issues that might come up during the audit or have come up during the audit. This will allow everyone to see what has been received and what is still needed and it is expected that both parties should also share their schedules and availability.
An effective communication plan will ensure a smooth execution of the audit with the help of the relevant technological platform and device. Using a reliable and stable voice and video communication and screen sharing application is very necessary for a successful remote audit, especially to conduct personal interviews, review documented information and records and observe processes and activities according to your audit plan.
Prepare for a solid audit reporting structure – ensure your remote audit report is solid with clear information of the process and evidences. Also, include details about the remote auditing methods that have been used and explain the effectiveness of the audit in achieving the stated objectives.
Although some certifying bodies, especially for management system standards, do not approve remote auditing for initial certification audits due to the higher level of risk resulting from the lack of familiarity with the audit client system, this should not deter MS auditors from building competence for e-auditing by gaining experience from initiating and performing internal e-audit on an existing management system. This will help build confidence in you and also provide assurance that you are not stuck in the traditional method of auditing.