Psychologist Nathaniel Branden said that change begins with awareness. Many today are keenly aware of the need for change, and civil servants are undoubtedly amongst that group. Over the past three to four months, governments around the world, have rolled out scores of loans and benefits to help cushion the pandemic’s blow for businesses and individuals.
According to Derek Titterington, General Manager, Asia Pacific at Wolters Kluwer TeamMate, “Spending needs to be accounted for and tracked to make sure everything’s in adherence to established policies and procedures. Audit plans have to adapt as quickly as government agencies respond with new policies and grants in light of the developing pandemic crisis. Auditing is needed to maintain public trust.”
This is where adopting the right technology coupled with an agile approach to auditing makes a winning combination. “One important way departments can be agile is by building an audit plan that is responsive to changing business needs, with continuous risk assessment and flexible planning,” he explains. He highlights three key areas where technology can support agile auditing.
Firstly, technology helps to improve visibility and plug the gaps in audit testing. “Traditionally, auditors used data sampling,” says Titterington. This means they selected data at random to test for anomalies, instead of checking every transaction.
“The problem is that you might miss something just because it wasn’t there, or it was difficult to see patterns,” he says. Data analytics can look at the big picture to draw out irregular patterns. Auditors can then better identify risk areas that they should be focusing on or to conduct further investigation if required. Real time reporting is also helpful in getting instant knowledge, Titterington says.
Auditors are not data scientists, so it’s great to have standardised tests to help with data analysis, and built-in tutorials to guide them through the process. “Some auditors aren’t used to doing data analysis,” says Titterington. “TeamMate has its own Data Analytic solution, TeamMate Analytics that provides users with the ability and confidence to conduct their own analysis. It gives them examples to show the value of running the analysis, demonstrates best practices and guides them through the analysis step by step.”
Previously, even if companies had the analytics capabilities, only one or two people would be trained to run it, because it required specialist coding skills. With TeamMate Analytics, the entire Audit team can easily use data analytics on every audit, explains Titterington.
Audit departments are facing increasing pressure to be more efficient; the clear and consistent mantra is “do more with less”. Titterington shares that something as simple as standardised templates have shaved up to 75 per cent off the time auditors take to create reports.
Digitalising the audit process has also made follow ups with auditees quicker. Organisations can easily track the progress of the audit, and auditors can highlight potential issues to auditees. “There’s one repository where [auditees] can look at what they need to do. They can then upload and provide that information to the auditor,” explains Titterington. This has saved up to 30 per cent of the time usually taken for both parties, he adds.
Technology also helps with onboarding new staff members, shares Titterington. “By having technology in place that provides historical insights on how tests were conducted previously, new joiners are able to quickly learn more about an organisation’s audit methodology,” he says.
It is often said, that the littlest things matter most, and that’s certainly true for auditing. Standardised naming conventions and using the same auditing methods across all government agencies may sound simple, but can be difficult without technology enablement.
Audit technology ensures auditors can track and report information quickly, by using standard templates. These templates can also be easily reused across various agencies, and efficiencies are created through robust repetitive processes, which is impossible without purpose-built audit technology, notes Titterington.
Singapore Airlines uses Wolters Kluwer TeamMate Analytics to audit the spend on maintaining and modernising their aircraft and bring about consistency which meets the Group’s requirements. Before this, only staff with advanced mathematical prowess could operate the analytics software, but a clearer and simpler user interface, without the need for specialist coding skills, enabled all auditors to identify potential fraud risks without breaking a sweat.
Agility and flexibility is of the essence
Globally, audit departments across government and private sectors are moving towards adopting agile auditing. Agile auditing allows auditors to take into account new risks that emerge during that cycle, or each quarter, instead of updating new risk information annually. This means agencies can better understand potential risks, even those that were not initially included in the scope of the audit.
The insights and flexibility technology offers allows auditors to identify, analyse and address problem areas quickly changing the way an audit is conducted. “If the risk is well managed in one area, then you may not need to continue auditing in that area, you can pivot and go to a different area, helping you better manage risk, audit coverage and resources” he says.
Governments are adapting quickly to global changes; auditors will also need to adapt. Adopting the right technology can help auditors identify potential risks areas, produce reports faster and share information more easily. This will better equip auditors to embrace change. As economies navigate this time of change, government and public sector auditors will have to adapt to keep nations accountable.