Auditors are often required to travel to perform their inspections. While I love the opportunity to visit new places and meet new people, frequent travel can be difficult on the mind, body, and emotions. Travel could also be dangerous if the inspection site is in a foreign country with civil unrest, war, or anti-American sentiments. With all the advances in telecommunications technology, could we save money, time, and risk by performing audits remotely?
I definitely believe remote audits are viable options in this tech savvy era. A typical auditor only spends a fraction of his or her time actually walking through a facility or observing processes. Most of the time is spent reviewing policies, procedures, or records. Document review could easily be performed remotely using email, document collaboration tools, or remote desktop applications. Auditors could request a specific set of documents or records, and have them scanned and emailed right to their desktops. With the abundance of cheap digital storage and high speed internet, even large files could be transferred back and forth quite easily.
But what if you actually need to see the buildings, equipment, and people? This too has become much easier with the abundance of new technology. All you would really need is a couple of iPhones or laptops with webcams. Applications like Facetime, Skype, or WebEx make it extremely simple to share 2-way live video and audio. To make a the most of an audit utilizing real time video and audio, it would be best to establish a plan before actually turning on the cameras and microphones. I recommend using the facility floor plan to map out a route and highlight areas along the path where you’d like to stop and witness processes in action.
There are some obvious downsides to remote audits. Guiding the auditees using voice commands will be difficult especially if there is any type of language barrier. Also technology has a tendency to break when you count on it most. If a camera, microphone, or document scan fails, you could spend much more time fixing the technology rather than focusing on the audit itself. Also, you will be limited by what you can see in the narrow view of the camera and short ear of the microphone. Remote audits inherently lack the ability to catch something out of the corner of your eye or overhear an enlightening conversation.
Despite its criticisms, remote audits should be included as part of you audit toolkit. They work best when you have a strong, trusting relationship with your auditee. Remote audits will never be able to provide the richness and value of an on-site audit, but in certain situations they can be an excellent alternative.