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The remote audit and its long-term viability for business

Those few words and numbers in recent times – ‘COVID-19’ have caused havoc across the globe. Business audits including, regulatory, compliance, internal, external and every other type of audit including inspection, have been thrust into becoming ‘remote and virtual’ – the only choice, to get them completed at during this time.

Yet, what is the long-term solution? Is there a viable way to conduct compliance audit activities? Let’s discuss:

Before COVID-19, remote audits were taking place for many years in businesses globally. To fulfil needs, avoid unnecessary travel time and costs, and deliver to their business exactly what they say they would. If we were to move all audits to a remote strategy, this is a different ball game altogether and is maybe just one step too many.

Previous remote audits were often combined with later site, physical, face to face or at facility audits to verify the previously reviewed remote content covered. This meant the two approaches complemented one another (or vice versa). Other non-audit activities, certainly from an internal perspective, would be dovetailed during physical visits and audits to make the most effective use of time.

Does remote auditing provide value for money?

Like anything, there are pros and cons involved in terms of virtual audits – let’s consider the time and money spent travelling for auditors and employees. Both internal and external, versus clicking a few buttons on the computer screen and you’re talking to someone thousands of miles away and looking at documents online together. The words ‘carbon footprint’ have had a good few months off and we’ve seen air pollution drop, cities are seeing mountains they’ve not seen for decades – the list goes on.  People have saved money on commuting and have enjoyed more family time amongst working. But we have seen economies impacted, jobs cut across every sector and a worrying future for some – to say the world of audits hasn’t been affected would be an understatement.

Value for money to some degree, will have taken a hit for companies as certain elements just can’t be done thoroughly or as effectively behind a screen. So…

  • How do we complete site competence assessments virtually?
  • How do we inspect premises or facilities – walking around with a tablet device while someone else looks on?
  • How effective can we be remotely connected?

Yes, it works – but will it bring the same value we get from of being there? Collaborating with people on-site, absorbing the culture in place, seeing, hearing and listening to the elements that we probably need to really gain that correct and overall assessment to drive improvement.

The limitations come in when technology lets us down, with signal and connectivity issues as well as the inability to complete live samples, on-site while talking to people, going off on audit trials that are not planned or trying to audit live site activities with equipment, machinery, contractors, customers or suppliers in situ. These can and will have been attempted during COVID-19 but, there is a very valid reason that before COVID-19, some never were and never would have been planned as remote audits.

 

Can we do this long term?

Certainly, limitations exist when we go ‘virtual’ on an audit as it can only do so much. The world has collectively accepted this impact for now and audits have been moved out to the right as the health of society rightly was put first. Flexibility has been granted for deadlines, renewals and transitions extended. Customer audits have been delayed and while the world of audits has tried to continue churning away remotely, working to some extent…

Auditing and sampling are a vital piece of armour organisations have in their artillery to fight and help them improve, seek the compliance it’s needed for verification or find issues to sort them out. Audits and inspections support the fight of litigation and legal challenges through clear visible activities of compliance and risk management, discharging when companies audit what they do and how it’s done. Without such, companies are at risk of failing to review and police their activities to ensure compliance.

It will be interesting to see how organisations use this live business continuity test and adjust their practises. They should consider the value of remote auditing which in snippets, can be an effective process, delivering good supportive compliance. This versus the huge and renowned gains and intel collected from ‘the shop floor’ or ‘nucleus’ saturation on site auditing and inspections deliver by being in front of people, equipment and buildings rather than from behind that little screen.

Some companies can thrive on remote auditing and may move to that much more post COVID-19. Others will have a large gaping compliance hole they need to fill up.