Do Remote ISO Audits Offer Advantages Over In-Person Audits?
Even before the 2020 pandemic, Cavendish Scott was performing some internal auditing services remotely. But since the first lockdowns, remote and hybrid audits have represented an increasing portion of the firm’s business.
Remote audits involve notable advantages over in-person audits, including the following.
- They eliminate travel time and expenses.
- They’re safer in terms of Covid 19 or other contagious viruses.
- Since schedules don’t need to accommodate out-of-towners, they can be more flexible and less compressed.
- Participants can join from wherever they are, as long as they have connectivity.
- Document review can take place at individual computers.
Remote audits involve all of the same stages as their face-to-face counterparts, beginning with detailed planning.
Cavendish Scott auditors start by researching their client’s organization and filling in any gaps to make sure they have the knowledge and competence to perform the audit. They work closely with their points of contact to develop detailed plans, including schedules that list precise times for all activities, even breakouts and breaks. Schedules for remote audits can extend over longer periods than in-person audits so that their impact on day-to-day operations is minimal.
Planning also includes identification of all participants in the audit, how they will be involved and the documentation they will present. Cavendish Scott specifies what will be needed, including records and visuals. This enables participants to know their responsibilities so they can make their parts of the audit go well.
Just as an in-person audits require planning for physical space, so too, remote audits require planning for virtual space, where technology is even more important. In both cases, all need to meet in the same space.
Clear Communication is Essential
Numerous options exist for meeting platforms, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, GoToMeetings, Join.me, and RingCentral Meetings, as well as others. Whatever option is chosen, clear communication is the goal, and good command of technology is important. A checklist for virtual spaces includes the following.
- Charge devices ahead of time.
- Check platform connections.
- Check video, headphones, and microphones.
- Test cameras.
- Include phone connections, which can be particularly important for walk-throughs.
- Address security and confidentiality concerns.
- Practice as needed with space management tools, like screen sharing, screen mirroring, and separating panelists from others.
- Have a backup plan.
Both in-person and virtual audits start with kickoff meetings. These gatherings usually include many if not all participants in the audit. The agenda includes talking about the scope, schedule, and goals of the audit, as well as, asking and answering questions and exchanging information.
The virtual environment is an ideal setting for document review, a critical component of any audit. During in-person audits, this step often involves auditors’ leaning over someone’s shoulder to inspect documents on the client’s screen. During remote audits, all can comfortably and clearly view documents on their individual computer screens. Conversation is more open and relaxed. Communication is better, the audit trail is easier to follow, and document control can be more readily verified.
In addition, confidentiality can be better protected in remote audits. Clients share their screens, so Cavendish Scott doesn’t have access to their systems or any information that’s not included through screen sharing. Clients can withhold appropriate confidential and proprietary information.
The majority of ISO standards and audits are based on requirements with production involving only from 10 to 15 percent, on average, of standards. But for clients with complex production processes, this element is essential.
Since in-person facility walk-throughs and actual observation of manufacturing processes aren’t possible in remote audits, photography and videography play an important role in showing these. As noted above, the camera of a cell phone that’s connected to the appropriate meeting space can be a valuable tool.
Just as in-person audits end in much the same way as they begin, so it is with online audits. Often, the events take place in the same spaces with the same people present.
Physical-Remote Hybrids in the Future
Safety, of course, was the primary motivation for moving all audits online during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Remote audits have been one way to adhere to government mandates about in-person work, and help to protect all parties against the deadly virus.
As the risk of in-person meetings lessens, Cavendish Scott will seek an appropriate balance between in-person and remote services. Of course, client preferences will play a large part in determining the right balance, but in many cases the answer may be hybrids, such as the following.
- New clients will likely do well to start with an onsite audit for their first internal audit by Cavendish-Scott and then they may switch to remote or hybrid audits.
- Existing clients may want to rotate from one type of audit to another—maybe having an onsite audit every three years with remote audits in the other two years of a cycle.
- Clients that have a complex production component that’s critical to their audit may use both in-person and remote services in a single audit. They may work with Cavendish-Scott to develop a plan where the production part of the audit is done onsite, while the remainder is done remotely.
Whatever their preferences, Cavendish Scott stands ready to help organizations prepare for certification audits, using all of the tools, opportunities and advantages available, including those that come with remote auditing.
Cavendish Scott offers consulting, training and auditing to help organizations obtain and maintain certification in a full range of standards.