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#WFH is here for the long run – Optimizing internal audit processes

March 23, 2021
Haim Halpern

This content is brought to you by Datricks whose technology helps CFOs, internal auditors and procurement teams automatically understand and gain full visibility into their internal processes, including related anomalies, suspicious activity and deviation from best practices.

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While it may be hard to believe, it’s already been a whole year since the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global health pandemic. The lives of billions have been completely upended, in part due to self-quarantine and social distancing directives. 

What’s more, millions have become unemployed while many more face financial uncertainty. Even those fortunate enough to have kept their jobs were suddenly thrust into a new form of existence that is challenging the very fabric of their social order — working from home.

In this article, I am sharing my perspective on how the challenges of a remote workforce are impacting critical organizational processes, specifically internal audits, and how technology quickly evolved to support arising needs.  

According to research by the Institute of Internal Auditors, a third of internal-audit functions have been forced to make budget cuts. 

Source: Institute of Internal Auditors, COVID-19 Impact on Internal Audit, 2020

Three-quarters of internal audit functions have updated their audit plans.

Source: Institute of Internal Auditors, COVID-19 Impact on Internal Audit, 2020

Almost 40% of internal auditors have had to shift their staff to focus on non-audit work.

Source: Institute of Internal Auditors, COVID-19 Impact on Internal Audit, 2020

Some organizations were indeed exploring new techniques to support remote internal auditing for years before the pandemic hit. However, very few actually embraced remote internal auditing until Covid-19 forced them to, perhaps all too quickly.  

The new normal — especially working remotely — is impacting internal processes across every organization in the world. From setting up remote workforce capabilities, new risks, and job cuts, to learning new technologies and balancing work and home, there’s definitely a lot of adjusting going on. 

Organizations are rising to the challenge, adopting new technologies that enable them to support and optimize their processes to adapt to the new normal. While some of these changes may be discarded once we’ve passed the peak of the pandemic, others will definitely be with us for years to come.

Here’s just a few of the new internal process challenges organizations are dealing with in the new normal:

  • Changes to system access. Enabling a remote workforce means that more people need to access the system, for all sorts of reasons, creating new internal control risk exposure.   
  • Fraud is on the rise. With everyone working from unsecured home offices, internal control processes built to secure a central office environment simply aren’t effective. The swift, abrupt shift to remote work has developed conditions that are ripe for fraud. 
  • Communication silos. The shift to working from home is negatively impacting teamwork and creativity levels.
  • Collaboration. Internal audit leaders find it challenging to ensure that everyone is constantly updated and that audit projects meet their deadlines.  

Rising to the Challenge

The latest technologies and innovative methodologies offer organizations tools to overcome the repercussions of work from home on their internal processes and audits.

Automate manual discovery processes. If everyone’s working from home, do what you can to automate the discovery and optimization of your internal-audit processes. Automation capabilities are both comprehensive and unbiased, hence significantly reducing the chance of human error. 

Establish a formalized internal audit format. Every team needs clear guidelines to get them by during times of uncertainty. Internal audit teams are no different, which is why you should set up a standardized, formal format for internal audit projects. Such a formalized audit format should include processes and tools that help remote teams prioritize tasks and establish criteria for success –. a project charter and project plan or any other uniform guide that delineates project flows and standards of delivery, for instance. Using predefined audit templates within an audit management platform promotes consistency and ensures that the structure put in place is maintained.  

Restructure processes. In light of the drastic and undeniably significant changes of the last year, organizations would do well to reconsider their existing priorities, processes, and procedures within their internal audit planning. New ways of working bring new risks, and new risks should be accommodated by introducing new processes and optimizing existing ones. Internal audit teams shouldn’t wait on the sidelines for their executive leadership to take on the task. Instead, they should take a proactive approach that challenges their business operations and provides insights into how to mitigate the new risks that organizations are suddenly facing.

Improve your internal process structure. Don’t assume that your management team understands everything about the new risk landscape brought about by the shift to working from home. Clearly articulate the impact on your organization’s risk and opportunity landscape as soon as you can. Generate and deliver insights regarding what can be done to improve the steps you’ve taken so far, and plan on taking in the near future to mitigate all of these new risks. 

Level up your tool stack. Are the tools and technologies you’re currently using for internal auditing good enough for today’s reality? Do they deliver the goods when it comes to efficiently perform internal audit work remotely? Does your team have the know-how in place to effectively leverage remote technology and perform internal audits remotely? If you’re already reprioritizing and restructuring your internal audit plan, you should go the whole nine yards and make sure that you have the right technology — and knowledge — in place to get the job done right.

Streamline remote communication. Just because you’re working remotely doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate as though you’re in the same room. The latest video-conferencing platforms deliver collaborative functionality, including file-sharing and screen-sharing. Start implementing short meetings every few days to ensure that audit projects are progressing on schedule and ensure that everyone is aware of changing priorities and ongoing projects. 

What is the actual value of today’s technologies that support Internal Audit Teams? 

A fully automated internal-audit solution that is fed by AI capabilities and follows process mining methodologies offers an example of how technology can be leveraged to meet the challenges presented above. 

Though colored by being a co-founder at Datricks, I would still argue that such solutions detect anomalies and process trends like no human can without becoming less effective by #WFH.

Organizations worldwide use Datricks or similar solutions to analyze their real financial data to quickly and accurately uncover and solve problems within their internal processes. 

Advanced AI engines enable fast, accurate analysis of data so that risk assessment can be customized to guide the internal audit scope. Organizations benefit from technology that automates manual tasks, streamlines workflow and communications, and eliminates time wasted on monitoring progress and hunting down elusive data.   

Summary

With a significant portion of the workforce now working from home, organizations in every industry find themselves forced to adapt to a new reality. This reality hits internal audit teams especially hard, as they’re suddenly dealing with smaller budgets, reduced staff, and a reshuffling of priorities. What’s more, new threats emerging from the new normal means that extra effort must deliver solutions that mitigate this risk and uncover opportunities hiding behind the clouds. 

The latest technologies provide internal audit teams with powerful solutions to meet these new challenges. Automation and AI are just a few of the technologies that internal audit teams can leverage to optimize their processes to enable efficient remote work operations. 

Corporates should deploy out-of-the-box solutions to automate internal audit teams’ workflows. Such solutions leverage AI to quickly read an organization’s internal processes structures, uncovering opportunities to optimize and enhance their flows.

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