Home Resources Blog September 2021

The Benefits of Remote Auditing

17 September 2021
As we begin to return to normality again, Regional Assessor Marc Pathy shares the first of a two-part blog on remote and blended audit approaches, both of which have become increasingly relevant over the past 18 months...

With the easing of lockdown measures earlier this year, I have on occasion been able to visit client sites to conduct audits again, and have been struck by how much I missed ‘live’ onsite auditing and the value it brings for both clients and assessors alike.

The landscape has changed significantly since the start of the pandemic however, and whilst onsite audits have their advantages, I have come to realise that remote auditing also has its place in the mix, with its own set of advantages and benefits which I have detailed below.

The strengths and benefits of remote audits  

  • Preparation from the auditor - Specific drafting of a remote audit plan in order to facilitate client understanding of what exact documents and evidence need to be provided on the day of the audit – meaning that requirements, in many ways, are now clearer than ever to clients.
  • Preparation from the client. Due to the need to send documents via e-mail or share them through secure online meeting tools such as MS Teams, a degree of client preparation is required. This preparation by the client, whilst a new way of working, helps the client to be fully familiar with what the auditor will need to see in order to carry out the audit.

  • The above preparation has the effect of focussing the attention of both the client and the assessor on achieving the same audit objectives and actually working collaboratively. Both parties are encouraged to follow the plan and provide the inputs to the plan in a systematic manner, where both parties are contributing to planning and carrying out the work.

  • With both parties sharing a screen remotely, there is a heightened level of transparency and trust between the auditor and the client that the information displayed by the client might be a 'genuine sample' rather than a 'here's one I prepared earlier'. In general, clients opt for transparency and openness, which means they are happy to take random samples and present these directly to the auditor without a filter – this transparency truly adds value to the process.

  • There are heightened levels of engagement and ownership from the client in the auditing process – for example by showing the assessor around the site physically (by remote links and/or videos) and explaining the process. In many ways, by following this process, the client understands more fully what an external audit is looking for during the site visits.

  • When reviewing documentation, the auditor can do this in a quiet, home environment and without the distractions of other site/office activities.

  • The client has clear time away from the audit whilst the auditor is carrying out the audit – therefore can focus on day-to-day activities without the pressures/distractions and responsibility of an auditor being onsite.

  • It gives the assessor the opportunity to speak directly one-on-one to Operators/Operational Teams about the job they are carrying out (on installation/offsite work for example) - meaning that the Operator himself/herself takes full responsibility for explaining the work, often managing the video/live stream and providing evidence in support.

  • This may sound silly but as an assessor, but when holding a large remote meeting (typically opening/closing, multi-person process/system review meetings) you don’t have to remember all the names of the participants as they are marked at the foot of everyone’s screen! This means no more asking “could you spell that name out for me please?”

  • Some clients have actually told me that the communication within their own company has improved as they have had to hold more frequent online meetings in order to keep abreast of the ever-changing market/supply chains/business environment they operate in today – including changes to their management systems.

Opportunities within remote auditing   

  • The ability to directly share intranet and client digital management systems e.g. SAP on the screen without 'leaning over the desk' whilst peering into the client's screen – this offers a first time ever chance to genuinely scrutinise client systems in ‘close-up’ mode – with the auditor being fully ‘immersed’ in experiencing the client’s intranet (as the auditor is looking at the evidence on his own screen as the client shares it).

  • Remote audit reports often contain more photographic evidence to support compliance. This makes audit reports much more colourful and, as we all know ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ - Photographic/scanned evidence used for audit reporting - learnings from this process have even changed my auditing practice for onsite audits to using more photographic evidence and screen shots in the final report.

  • Video evidence used to carry out site visits - Gives client a lasting view of their site and potential publicity/promotional material to use after the audit if they so chose.

  • Access to offsite/multi-site client activities/processes - The use of video/live streaming to audit client installation and offsite activities (where before there was a tendency to wait until there would be a 'live'/'in person' chance to go onto these installation/remote sites - e.g. Off Site Processes for review at Site Visits

  • Increased flexibility to adapt audit plans – You may be auditing clients who are physically miles apart from each other due to work/other commitments

  • The opportunity to be able to audit organisations globally without the client(s) or the auditor(s) leaving your/their own home office(s)! And I do mean globally – with clients in different countries all participating (provided local time zone allow them to)!

  • Improved usage of electronic communications and IT from both assessors and clients    

  • Lower carbon footprint due to reduced travel and use of vehicles

In my next blog I will focus on the ‘benefits of the blended audit’ approach – which is another new and exciting development in this brave new world. Until that time, happy remote auditing to all!

Authored by Marc Pathy – NQA Regional Assessor