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As traditional operating models were interrupted during COVID-19, organisations had to adapt quickly which created rapid changes to risk profiles. These changes demanded internal audit functions flex quickly and adopt scalable, flexible audit techniques and approaches. In demonstrating this new value offering, internal audit now has the opportunity to permanently shift the dial.

Internal audit functions had the opportunity to pivot to a more pragmatic and agile approach and with expected continued demand for more rapid, targeted and efficient assurance internal audit functions will need to provide enhanced insights and quick responses to changing risks and priorities. 

Benefits of agile audit

Agile internal audit techniques allow for a timely and fit-for-purpose approach to providing assurance during uncertain and changing times.

Agile internal audits are founded on the agile project and change management methodology, built to accommodate continually changing circumstances. As the agile method is shorter and iterative it allows for more flexibility and delivers greater impact when new initiatives arise, or significant business interruption occurs. Agile approaches to delivering outputs are increasingly being used across all organisations, including second and third line functions.

Agile internal audit delivers reduced costs, efficient delivery and improved quality. Agile is based around the concepts of:

  • shorter, accelerated audit cycles
  • timely insights
  • greater stakeholder interaction and alignment to stakeholder needs
  • reduced waste and documentation
  • frequent communication
  • increased audit quality.

Agile assists in prioritising audits based on risk and the organisation’s readiness to perform the audit, with the delivered report focusing on providing insights and delivering briefer, timely feedback – with less words and, ideally, more visuals.

Benefits of an agile internal audit process

Delivery guidance

The adoption of agile creates an opportunity for internal audit to think differently about the delivery of audit plans and the critical controls monitoring in the longer term.

Internal audit professionals pivoting towards an agile delivery execution need to consider the changes needed to key audit concepts.
 

Attribute
Traditional Audit Agile Audit
Focus
Audit objectives Defined value expectations
Ownership Internal audit team Collective, team based
Engagement Sequence Linear Sequential work cycles
Planning Rigorously planned activities and a set master internal audit plan Activities are quick, iterative (sprints) and incremental
Communication Ad-hoc communication, typically during finalisation of fieldwork and reporting. Frequent communications, for example daily meetings and auditees involved throughout.
Status updates Ad hoc – as needed or as defined by organisations audit methodology. Daily and incremental with input from the client and key stakeholders.
Reporting One report, provided on completion of the audit, and often requiring a laborious review process. Smaller ‘summaries’ provided throughout project with focus on value and visualisation.
Documentation/Working Papers Significant, comprehensive and thorough to ensure work is defendable, often reviewed at completion of project. Rationalised and value based. 80/20 rule – 20 percent accounts for 80 percent of results. Reviewed throughout project.
Auditee Relationship Arm’s length Collaborative relationship, with auditee ownership and agreement throughout.



Business Benefits
Flexible and dynamic internal audit planning through continuous risk monitoring
Short iterations aid timely adjustments for the audit
Value creation by focusing on the (agile) resultIterative reporting
Iterative reporting
Continuous optimisation on the method by welcoming changes
Collaboration and multidisciplinary teams as a basis for added value

Optimising agile

Full scale internal audits that adequately address complex and high risk reviews will always be required. Internal audit teams will need to give careful consideration to the application of agile, ensuring the appropriate nature of the audit topic and the profile of participating auditees. There are some internal audit areas which may be best aligned to agile approaches.

  • Critical controls monitoring: repeatable and regular reviews provide routine communication of observations and prompt action. Additionally data analytics can be applied over critical controls in an agile approach. For example, focus on key business and compliance risks and associated controls such as delegations of authority (DoA), third party vendor management, cash management, cybersecurity and fraud risks. Read COVID-19 Critical controls continuity for more information on this topic.
  • Change programs: which could include changes to processes and new products developed as a result of COVID-19, the introduction of any new operations and operational technology implementation/updates and strategic change initiatives.
  • Data-analytics driven internal audits: which could include core financial reviews such as payroll, accounts payable/receivable and procurement.
  • Disaster recovery and business continuity: which could include reviews over the effectiveness of continuity plans, design adequacy, health checks and post recovery reviews.

Agile reporting adds value for stakeholders

Agile audit reports are brief, timely, and succinct. They are the culmination of observations which have already been shared and agreed with management, for which management have addressed or implemented actions. Key concepts include the following.

  • A summary of observations at the conclusion of each ‘sprint’ is provided (e.g. through use of a memorandum). For example, a data analytic dashboard report is an effective one page summary highlighting exceptions. This is particularly powerful in the context of COVID-19, providing simple, rapid and regular reporting of deviations for investigation. 
  • Reports are collaboratively discussed with auditees to provide insight and feedback for immediate action. 
  • The final report is a culmination of each summary at the conclusion of a sprint, providing themed findings and opinions of the process reviewed.

A positive benefit of COVID-19

COVID-19 has provided the unusual opportunity for internal audit professionals to rapidly adopt and transform their traditional approach. Given the ongoing change and disruption which will continue in the wake of COVID-19, agile internal audit will be demanded as a sustained and long term assurance technique.

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