Agility in the World of COVID-19

Agility in the World of COVID-19

For the last few years, there have been discussions about agile auditing. When it was first brought to my attention, a boss of mine came back from an Internal Audit Conference (by the way I attended but skipped the agile auditing session) and was raving about agility. She had large notecards; many of them were filled with notes back and front. At first, like with most everything that I think is a fad, I kind of blew it off. But then she said she wanted me to implement agile auditing into my audit plans – I was livid. I pretended it was going to be a great endeavor (insert fake smile). OK, first thing first – What the heck is Agile? My boss’s notes didn’t make sense based on my audit knowledge, and I considered myself to be an expert, yes, I said, expert. So, I looked up agility – hmm, it was regarding software companies and IT companies. The definition was being rapid and adaptive. I sent a note to my counterpart, asking him if he knew what we were supposed to do. He had no idea, of course, he never did. So, we contacted the person who had given the original training. By then, months had passed, and she had more details on implementing agility into the audit cycle. We launched our first audit. It was fantastic – we talked, learned from each other, and revised our scope continuously. We actually knew when to stop, something auditors have struggled with since the beginning of time. So, as you are reading, you are asking yourself, what does agility have to do with COVID-19 and internal audit? Well, let me tell you.

In the past 5 to 10 years, internal auditors have had to become flexible and be able to change plans with sometimes little notice. I was in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. The only thing I told my internal audit team was to take their laptops home just in case we have to work from home for a few days. Well, a few days turned into almost two months. Our partners were​ not ready for the destruction that Hurricane Harvey caused. I remember being on the phone with our partners for about 10-14 hours a day for a week, working through their disaster recovery plan, and trying to get up and going. We eventually recovered, and all things were back in balance again. We had challenges such as how we were to test some of our controls or what controls should and should not be executed.Luckily, we coordinated with our external audit team and everything worked out.

Now we are in the world of the coronavirus or COVID19. Most of the world is on lockdown. In the US, over 20 million people have lost their jobs and are unemployed. In Texas, millions of people lost their jobs, many of them from oil & gas companies who worked in corporate and back-office positions. With everything going on, lots of questions must be considered. “How are controls being executed? How are processes being performed? How is internal audit operating?” I learned that during this crazy time, internal audit is being asked to step into non-traditional roles like working in warehouses, administrative work, customer service, and so forth. So, who test controls? Who performs audits? Internal audit is considered a control, so what happens if they are not functioning?

This is the point where an internal audit has to be agile in every facet of their work. It is time to re-evaluate your risk assessment and really decide what is high risk and essential and what is low risk and doesn’t have to be tested or performed. It is time to determine what audits can be postponed until next year. Your external auditors are now working from home. So how do you get documentation that they need, which is stored in the office? After attending many seminars since we first heard the word COVID-19, the consensus is to automate. I recently participated in an oil & gas 2-hour seminar. At the workshop, the first hour was all about all the things going wrong with oil & gas. For about 30 minutes before the Q & A was around possible​ solutions. The answer was to automate as many aspects of the business as possible. This is the same for every industry. Now, when people hear the word automation , they get scared and think it is going to mean losing jobs. The answer is yes, and no. After this is over, many jobs will not return. Some because companies have realized that they didn’t need various roles, others because the company never reopened, and various other reasons. I see a world that needs to automate now. Creating new jobs, allowing people to spend time focused on more high-level tasks that require the human thought process and considerations. Automate all those mundane tasks to enable your people to focus on the “Big things.” In internal audit, for years, we have been trying to automate as much as we can. We have wanted to use automation to perform continuous monitoring exercises, to perform tests, to perform analytical reviews, to manage workpapers, to manage follow-up on issues, and to even manage the entire audit cycle. What if for internal audit, we could incorporate a digital auditor into the team. That digital auditor could focus on all the data-driven areas. What if the digital auditor could continue to test controls even during a pandemic. What if during the next Hurricane (I have been through 3), she would continue to work while the rest of us make sure our homes and families are well. What if she continued to audit while much of the team was gone for Christmas, Thanksgiving or other holidays? Just think of the world if your compliance, audit, and governance functions were genuinely agile. Well, that world exists. The world exists through a solution/platform called ALICE.

ALICE is a digital auditor who was created to change the world. She was born 4 years ago in South Africa but now is available to perform governance, audit, and compliance reviews globally. ALICE will enhance processes in any organization to support the rapidly changing landscape. ALICE can quickly adapt to environments with a rapid response rate. ALICE is the future of audit.