Audits exist for a single reason – no, it’s not driving compliance and IT leadership off the deep end, although it might seem that way – it’s to help monitor risk and compliance. Without systematically reviewing your agency’s processes and procedures, there’s no way for you to identify risks that can jeopardize your compliance with standards, everything from AS9100, ISO 9001, ISO 27001, NIST, and FISMA, to more specific standards that may only impact certain organizational functions.
Beyond that, not knowing when and where issues have occurred can lead to failures, breaches, and hits to citizen trust and mission readiness. Greater awareness, on the other hand, allows you to be proactive, so that you’re making informed decisions about your level of risk, instead of just putting out the next fire.
Too often, though, agencies rely on audit approaches that, on the surface, seem reasonable but may actually provide only a false sense of security, or just part of the picture. Checklists are among the worst offenders, because they distill what can be large sets of variables into “yes-or-no,” or “this-or-that” responses. The nuances that are essential to understanding your agency’s performance are missing.
Instead, we need to go beyond the black and white to capture and act on all the shades of color that comprise audits, inspections, and evaluations. We can then feed those meaningful findings into a dynamic process that can help get to the root of operational, compliance, mission, and quality issues and launch remediation processes to address them. To do this, it may help us to think differently about the purpose of an audit. Not only should it paint a compliance picture, it should also pave the way for continuous improvement initiatives, identify ways to mitigate risk, and create new opportunities throughout a supply chain.
An automated solution is definitely a step in the right direction. But an overly-complicated system may be more trouble than no system at all. “Many current tools are code-heavy and take a lot of heavy lifting to configure, or require a team of specialists to operate them,” shared ARMATURE CEO, David McTaggart. “But that doesn’t need to be the case with the next-generation of low-code / no-code solutions that are available today to help agencies make audit management faster and easier, while creating agency value.”
There is a time-and-place for checklists, though. They can be a great starting place for a conversation with vendors when evaluating automated audit systems, for example:
- Is the system web-based? Can we access it easily from anywhere – and be alerted of any anomalies in real time?
- Can it be configured by our in-house team (without technical knowledge), instead of paying for customizations every time we require a change?
- Can I start with the standards we need to meet, then allow users to enter any and all relevant data, including ratings, findings, documents, comments, and more?
- Does it allow us to include legacy technology and siloed processes?
- Can I go beyond the checklist, and can I initiate processes to resolve the issues we find?
- Can I engage multiple stakeholders in the audit and compliance conversation?
- Are there SaaS and on-premise options, so I can manage the system how I choose?
- Do we need a system that can help us establish a good foundation for machine learning and AI?
The risks of non-compliance are too great, from regulatory crackdowns to operational slowdowns that impact mission effectiveness. By automating your audit processes and thinking differently about audit outcomes, agencies can save time, increase accuracy, and head off problems before they impact the mission.