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(Video Series 4/5) Remote Audits: Were There Any Unexpected Outcomes?

Remote Audits & Unexpected Outcomes

In this video series, Peter Rogers from Mango talks with compliance experts from around the world about whether they have experienced any unexpected outcomes when carrying out remote audits.

With many countries around the world still experiencing a lockdown situation due to the ongoing global health pandemic, remote auditing is becoming more and more important.

You can find a transcript of the discussions below the video.

Remote Audits & Unexpected Outcome

Gary, QSM Group, Australia

The negative one is differences in technological or IT ability, and the IT infrastructure that may exist to the client.

That’s really where the planning comes in. When we first started doing this, we’d tee up an interview with someone and they didn’t actually know how to log in to do the interview. For example, the internet connectivity was that poor that you just couldn’t do the interview.

These are part of the things we learned from the initial days when we made sure that we’ve got that planning done.

If someone’s not familiar with how to use the technology, we allow time to go through that. Sometimes they’ll nod say, ‘Yes, we know how to do that’, but when it actually comes around to doing the interview, the reality is something different. You need to make sure that that’s planned for and there is time allowed.

In terms of the benefits, the obvious benefit for the client is we don’t charge as much for a remote audit as we do if we have to hop in a car and drive half a day to get somewhere.

For most of the parts of the audit, the standard is at least as good, and in some areas, it’s a lot better. You tend to focus on getting all the available information and records that actually support conformance. When you’re out on site, that’s not necessarily the case, you may not look for the same depth of evidence.

Chris, FQM, United Kingdom

The only negative that I found so far, happened this week actually. The client that I was auditing, I had asked them to provide certain information ahead of the audit. They effectively just loaded up their full management system, every record they could put their hand on, and they moved it into a shared location. The unfortunate side of that is that the navigation through that was extremely time consuming.

I think lessons learned from us will be that, with some clients, we need to make absolutely crystal clear, exactly the documents that they send, and only those documents and not to give us everything.

The only other negative is where it is a critical operational task that you have to physically see what’s going on. We need to see the way that someone is operating something, or undertaking some manual handling. However, I think we would never normally remote audit that type of activity or that type of audit anyway. That’s just simply been because of lockdown, we’ve not been able to go and do that.

I think in a normal scenario, let’s take for example, UKAS, if I was to be sitting on a panel of UKAS, (United Kingdom Accreditation Service, a governing body for the certification bodies in the UK), I would absolutely be an advocate of remote auditing.

I think probably around about 60% to 70% of all audit activities within an audit, can be done remotely with the remainder where required, needing some sort of site-based evidence.

Mark, Business Basics, Australia

Positive outcomes is the team management. For me and the guys that work for me, it has helped because they weren’t traveling at all. Whereas before you have guys driving and flying all around the country. Now they don’t, so that’s been a really positive outcome.

The negative outcome is the frustration that it takes with the time to get things done. Whereas you only have a certain amount of time to do it, and that time just gets eaten away because things aren’t necessarily ready.

Those outcomes, the two major positive and negative. I think the positive outweighs the negative. I don’t like guys driving six hours to go and do an audit. I like that they’re not traveling, I like they get to see their families.

As people are getting more and more used to it, that negative side, that frustration is going away, because people are getting more used to the technology.

Now you can sit and say, let’s have a zoom call, and everyone goes, “yep, sweet, no worries, we know how to run it”.

They know how to share their server. They know how to deal with those things. The people going into Cloud based systems is helping. They’re finding that because they work remotely, they’re spending the time to actually go and look into and investigate this stuff to make life simpler.

I think the longer it goes on those negative items will go away.

The big concern is that some of the records your seeing, might be presented to you, as opposed to the reality of what’s going on in their business, that’s always there, but we’ve got to take people on face value.

Andrew, IRM Systems, Australia

I guess the unexpected outcome for me, from a positive perspective, is just how efficiently it works. There’s not much drop off, in terms of the efficiency of achieving the audit objective.

I do second party audits for a project engineering company and it’s worked very well for them. It’s been very time efficient for their kind of project managers and engineers, just to come in at the allocated time. We’re seeing as much evidence as we’ve ever seen with them. That gives time efficiency.

One obvious opportunity (and I’ve touched on in some blogs is that – if an organisation like a water body or something with many operational sites) it does give you the opportunity to visit more sites within a limited time and resource budget as well.

Michael, Momentum Safety and Ergonomics, Australia

The negatives for me were very much in the getting out there and looking at processes sort of things.

I’ve had audits that have worked really well, where we’ve had a person who’s had their phone, it’s been nice and clear and easy to see, and they’ve been able to smoothly walk me through and around and describe a process.

I’ve had other ones where the internet connection was a bit wobbly, the person was bouncing around all over the place and I’m almost getting seasick trying to watch it, so that was a negative,

On the positive side I’ve been able to audit some clients sitting in my lounge room. I haven’t had to drive quite a long way to see them, when either that would have been hard in the past or not viable in the current climate.

The positives are that you can get the same thing potentially, done for less cost, and you can get it done whenever you need to.

I wouldn’t say anything was unexpected, they’re the sorts of things that you could predict, but they realise themselves when you go through those processes.

Nicholas, SRM, South Africa

I think it’s quite relaxed remote auditing.

Auditing can be quite stressful, for the auditee, we found that people have been a lot more relaxed, particularly if they’re in the home environments as well, so I think that’s been a positive outcome.

I think the negative outcome is that because you’re not sitting in front of the people, I think there is the opportunity for people to fabricate evidence, etc. Not that wasn’t a viable option when you’re auditing them face to face. I just think it does create a little bit more flexibility around the audit.

Positive, more people were more relaxed

Possible negative is that

you can’t review the physical site conditions.
I think that there is a greater opportunity for, how can I say creative audit behaviour?

Jodie, Penarth, United Kingdom

An obvious benefit with doing remote audits has to be not traveling, it’s much more efficient, it’s better for the environment, that’s been a massive benefit.

In terms of negatives, I guess what you will never capture from doing something on a remote basis is the fine detail of being there.

When you first put this question to me, I remembered one particular occasion;

I was walking on site, we were doing an environmental audit for a university that was priding itself on its environmental buying credentials, and I walked in and I could smell fresh paint.

Now, it straight away I realized from the odour of the paint, that they hadn’t specified BOC free paint, so what they were doing in practice didn’t match what they were saying. Odour is something that you won’t ever capture in, in a remote audit, so there are there are downsides. But I think for the for the most part, there are many benefits to be gained from the increase in number of remote audits.

I don’t think that site audits will disappear completely and I don’t think they should, but certainly a lot of things like, reviewing Management Review meetings, audit reports, looking up documents and
reviewing risk assessments,
there’s no reason why a lot of that can’t be done remotely.

John, Many Caps, New Zealand

I think the fact that we were able to grab evidence as we went. I don’t know whether it helped the auditor with their reporting later on but, be able to, as you walk around, just grab screenshots of what’s happening, and annotate it as you went was really helpful.

Being able to show, on one part of the screen, this is what you’re looking at, and then pull up for instance, the goods inwards inspection was a really good example. We’re using the Mango audit module for that, and so in real time, we’re able to pull up the audit for the thing that we’re looking at, and have them side by side (on the screen) and show the exact photograph of the item that’s at goods inwards, and the evidence so that it 100% tied up. That was a really nice thing to be able to do for the auditor even remotely.

Key Points

  1. Allow extra time if your client is unfamiliar with the technology you’re using.
  2. Be precise with your instructions to the auditee, so that they give you only what you need, not what they think you need.
  3. Remote auditing gives you the ability to audit multiple branches of the same company more efficiently and quickly because you do not have to travel.
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