Published: 24 Mar 2022
Is remote auditing the ‘new norm’? Rasoul Aivazi, an Associate Auditor, International Project Quality Lead and member of the CQI’s Audit Special Interest Group, examines the benefits and drawbacks of carrying out an audit when not on site.
A survey carried out by the Independent International Organisation for Certification (IIOC) on remote versus on-site audits discovered that, before 2019, only 2% of audits were conducted remotely. It is hardly surprising that the figure increased markedly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, jumping to 38% in 2020.
As an oil and gas projects quality lead, responsible for conducting internal audits in the headquarters of an international Japanese company, I witnessed the sudden shift from on-site to remote auditing in 2020. I have since been involved in conducting audits in remote or mixed/hybrid forms. I have seen on the one hand how the preparation and conducting of remote audits is, in some senses, easier, but on the other hand, how they do not function with total efficiency in some cases.
So, what are the pros and cons of remote audits, and what tips are there for providing maximum efficiency when a remote audit is required?
Pros of remote audits
One of the key advantages in conducting an audit remotely is saving time and money. Annual business travel costs were estimated at US$1,300bn in 2019. This figure plummeted to US$500bn in 2020 because of travel restrictions and an increase in working from home in all sectors, according to the Statista Research Department. As well as saving money, the reduction in travel has obvious benefits for the environment, cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions.
Whether you are ready or not, change is inevitable. You either get on the bandwagon or get left behind.
The shift to remote auditing has also improved health and safety. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that annual work-site incidents and injuries in 2019 had reached 2.8m in the US, a figure that fell by nearly 6% in 2020. Quality management (QM) auditors deal with businesses operating high-risk equipment and machinery, chemicals, substances and processes, all of which increase the risk for auditors, resulting in a slowing down of the audit process. A remote audit reduces the time and energy committed to safety, placing less strain on both the business and the auditor.
Finally, the preference of many auditors to carry out the work remotely is demonstrated by a survey conducted in July-August last year. This revealed that 79% of auditors support remote or mixed audits.
Cons of remote auditing
As with the pros, there are three distinct cons to consider when it comes to the practice of remote auditing.
The ideal means of communication is face to face, as a lot of information can be gleaned from body language and non-verbal signals. I use the phrase ‘reading the air’, which comes from a Japanese term ‘kuuki wo yomu (空気を読む)’. It means receiving non-verbal signals from others, as well as from the surroundings and environment, and understanding the atmosphere. Body language and facial expressions are important, but they are not the whole story of what we pick up on from our surroundings.
Poor data clarity is another con of remote auditing, as data can be manipulated and become misleading, leaving only shreds of evidence for auditors. To prevent this, good-quality information communication technology (ICT) should be used. Live video, such as Teams or Zoom, and data streaming are safer than working with static data and help improve data security.
Lack of auditor autonomy and ownership is the third disadvantage. Remote auditing takes away some freedom, ownership and pride of auditors, reducing their ability to direct the auditing process. Good ICT can compensate for this to some degree, but it makes the need for a transparent relationship between auditee and auditor even more crucial.
What the future may hold
We expect data to show that, for the 12 months of 2021, around 79% of audits were conducted remotely or through a hybrid process. That figure is in line with the data in the survey of July-August 2020, as reported above. I expect the increasing trend for remote and mixed auditing to continue in 2022, with a further rise of 10%. This means that, in all probability, 90% of all audits will be conducted either remotely or through a hybrid mix.
While some organisations are wondering whether remote or on-site auditing is the future, savvy and high-performance businesses will continue to benefit from conducting both types of audit. Mixed auditing could create more robust and auditor-friendly strategies. In addition, using the best available ICT and keeping pace with new technologies are key factors in ensuring the continuing success of remote-audit practice.
Last but not least, I would like to share a few words from Chikaodili Hemson, MD and CEO of Henzof Nigeria and a member of the CQI Audit Special Interest Group (SIG). In her presentation to the SIG’s first webinar in November 2021, she said: “Pandemics will come. Disruptions will come. Innovations will come. Thus, whether you are ready or not, change is inevitable. You either get on the bandwagon or get left behind. Remote auditing is the future."