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COVID-19 nudges us to accelerate the shift to data and technology based Assurance services

COVID-19 accelerates the shift to data and technology

If you weren’t entirely prepared for COVID-19, you’re certainly not alone. There has been a rapid turn of unimaginable events globally in the last few weeks, which makes us see that this virus is uniquely challenging in terms of its speed, scope and impact. That said, amid the turmoil, at KPMG we are committed to continue providing our Advisory and Assurance services for our clients during this pandemic.

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Fortunately, many organizations were well prepared to deal with a resolute shift from working in an office to working remotely from home. We all have expanded the options for our teams to maintain their communication through teleworking, further driving us in the new era where digital an flexible working is an undeniable part of our daily work schedule.

The Netherlands has been named the best country in Europe for remote working by the 2019 Remote Workers Index, but the COVID-19 outbreak will put us all to a test. Yet, after a week of working from our kitchen tables, living rooms or home-offices we can conclude that our colleagues and clients show solidarity, and do everything they can to adapt to this situation.

In this blog, we explain how we continue providing Assurance services to our clients using modern technology and how this way of working has swiftly become "the new normal".

How we are all adapting to "the new normal"

Software tools Skype, Microsoft Team and others make it possible for teams to stay connected and for our projects to continue with ease. For instance, to ascertain that their Assurance report can be issued we progressed with our work for one of the Dutch banks using Skype as the main collaboration tool. Physical meetings were converted into remote sessions in which video conferring was used for inquiries and screen sharing for control testing. Another team responded quickly when the client requested us to cancel two weeks of planned site visits and transform all physical meetings to Microsoft Teams sessions. Now the team is performing process walkthroughs and test work remotely, without delaying the overall project timelines. In collaboration with clients, our teams decide either to record meetings or request documentation and screen-prints print screens? via the collaboration tools on hand.

These are some, out of many, examples where we notice that teams largely experience success in their undertaking to continue planned work. Yet, we recommend to consider the below observations prior to your remote meeting:

  1. Plan enough time - Work tends to take longer due to the fragmentation in communication and distractions;
  2. Your tone of voice is key - The lack of eye-to-eye contact (if not video conferencing) makes your voice the most important nonverbal communication too;
  3. Prepare well - More preparation is required than before, for example, a clear agenda is key as well as testing the network connectivity and communication software; 
  4. Define roles - The role of a timekeeper, host and scribe becomes even more important; and
  5. Communication upfront - It is pivotal that we discuss the options to record the session with our clients and ask for their consent upfront.

We recognize that navigating this new way of working presents a set of challenges that are new to everyone impacted. However, we also see that people, especially in times like this, do have the patience and agility to overcome obstacles to minimize the disturbance of our work.

With no doubt, we believe that some of these effective remote working policies are likely to stick! However, we also hope that this crisis enables us to rethink the way how we can use technology to do our work smarter, faster and better.

Reshape the way we provide Assurance

Work mostly continues with the help of technology and a good mix of patience and agility. However, now more than ever, we have to reassess whether this is the most efficient and effective way to do the job. What if we do things differently using disruptive technology like Robotic Process Automation, Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence in combination with collaboration tools like the ones mentioned earlier in this article?

We have seen technologies like these can take some of the "repetitive" communication away, decrease the effort our clients spent and at the same time increase the quality of our work. At the same time, it brings valuable insights to improve their processes and further mature their control environment.

KPMG was one of the early investors in such technology, which have helped to digitize the way we provide Assurance services now:

  • Artificial Intelligence (e.g. Natural Language Processing) to obtain real-time views by accessing data publicly available like our clients' external communication, news and social media messages to highlights trends globally and help us to assess risks. Disruptive technology such as this helps us in identifying areas of attention, for example, an asset or geography relevant to our clients' business. If we see a spike in the 'noise', we will investigate and discuss it with our clients. We can use Artificial Intelligence to enhance our risk assessments as it identifies trends and anomalies that represent indicators of future risks. Risks that we might not have identified using classic risk assessment methodologies.
  • Process Mining offers us an objective and fact-based view, derived from 100% of the actual event logs that helps us identify where controls are being bypassed, where manual interventions take place and where bots or algorithm are used to automate process activities. Using data from our clients' IT systems and combining it with data from external sources as well as knowledge from across our global network, we can have more focused and targeted conversations with our clients about specifics in their processes. This would not only deepen the value of the Assurance our clients receive but also decrease the time we spent with them on redundant tasks such as process walkthroughs and enquiries about their risk and control environment.
  • Data Analytics to analyze system configuration data to conclude over the control design, and transactional data to conclude over its operating effectiveness by assessing the complete population of transactions. These analytical procedures identify transactions which are outside the set tolerances, not properly approved or data that is inconsistent with the input controls. Data Analytics helps us focus on transactions with a higher risk, while also identifying risks and improvement areas which were hidden before.
  • A collaboration platform named KPMG Clara in which our colleagues are working together with our clients. It provides information on how our work is progressing, which tasks need attention and which KPMG team member is the best person to contact for the relevant task. A clear and transparent view on milestones, progress, and accountabilities facilitates direct collaboration between teams and saves time by focusing on the most critical items. Moreover, it provides our clients access to KPMG industry expertise, thought leadership material and results of analytical procedures like the ones listed above.

Imagine a world where we can do this more frequently or even continuously. KPMG already implemented Assurance solutions at our clients which provides frequent updates on our clients' risk and control environments. This all happens automatically with limited involvements from our clients' staff. Will COVID-19 accelerate the transformation to more technology- and data-driven Assurance services? We think it will!

Every economic shock leaves a legacy

COVID-19 truly is dreadful situation for us all. It is both a health threat and economic threat but we can't say that it started the move to transform the way we provide Assurance to our clients. Innovation is something that has been happening for years and will continue to happen in the future. A crisis like this will only accelerate that process.

If you want to reach out to us, please find the contact details of the authors below.

Koen Klein Tank
Director, IT Assurance & Advisory
T: +31 6 13793301 Call: +31 6 13793301
E: kleintank.koen@kpmg.nl

Jeroen Vlek
Director Digital Assurance & Innovation
T: +31206 568892 Call: +31206 568892
E: vlek.jeroen@kpmg.nl

© 2021 KPMG N.V., a Dutch limited liability company and a member firm of the KPMG global organization of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Limited, a private English company limited by guarantee. All rights reserved.


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