The option of performing audits regardless of location already existed for some time, but the demand for remote audits was rather low until now. The pressure of the Corona pandemic and the demand to carry out audits more efficiently through digitalization have now led to a greater openness to digital solutions. Most recently, the European Commission also announced a recommendation for the performance of remote audits in the context of medical devices.
The following article will explain topics related to the planning and implementation of remote audit methods.
What is a remote audit?
A remote audit is a location-independent performance of audits with no or limited presence of an auditor. Technically speaking, a remote audit is not an alternative to an on-site audit, but it can be integrated into audit planning as a method under certain conditions. In terms of cost efficiency and the more resource-efficient execution of processes, remote audits deliver significant benefits.
With the appropriate technical infrastructure, mutual know-how and a common basis of trust between auditor and auditee, nothing stands in the way of the practical implementation of remote audits.
What can be audited? What technical and organizational requirements would have to be met for remote audits to be carried out?
Not every company is appropriate for performing remote audits. According to Quality Austria, the contact partner for training, certification and assessments and experts for integrated management systems, a distinction should be made between service and production companies. While in service companies the share of remote audits can be up to 100%, in manufacturing companies it is increasingly difficult to carry out assessments of, for example, machines completely remotely. Nevertheless, there is a remote audit potential of about 30% here. Here, the respective industry-specific regulations must be considered.
A general principle is that all records that can be shown in an office or meeting room are also suitable for remote audits.
In addition, a distinction must be made between the different types of audit. For initial assessments, an in-house audit is recommended. Repeat and monitoring audits, on the other hand, can also be performed digitally.
In addition to the organizational framework conditions, technical requirements for the successful introduction of digital remote assessments must also be well considered:
- Can the confidentiality, security and speed of the data connection be ensured?
- If necessary, is there an offline capability of the software if there are areas without Internet in the plant?
- Does the operation have suitable hardware such as smartphones and tablets for mobile data collection?
- Are appropriate security measures and data protection considered?
- Can integrity be ensured for auditors? (e.g. no taking of screenshots or other recordings).
- Are there alternatives in case of software problems?
- Can data and evidence be transmitted securely?
What are the remote audit types?
Audits can be performed directly in-house, fully remotely, or a combination of both.
Fully Remote: The audit is performed completely remotely, from planning to execution to verification of the measures.
Partly Remote: An audit that is conducted partly on-site and partly remotely. Auditor and co-auditor can, for example, audit from different locations.
Remote Follow-up: This is a post-audit that is carried out remotely in order to avoid having to travel to the operating site again.
Expert Remote Audit: Involvement of an expert during an audit who is not on site and participates digitally.
For whom is remote auditing suitable?
- Those companies that want to actively save costs in the implementation.
- International companies with many locations, which want to create local & temporal independence. Especially the restrictions due to the Corona Pandemic should be mentioned here.
- Audits at specialists who have very long travel times and want to amortize initial expenses quickly. Experts can be called in quickly and easily without incurring additional costs. The time between data collection and data evaluation is also reduced and the quality of the evaluations is increased.
What is the process of a remote audit?
Essentially, in-house audits differ from remote audits only in terms of attendance. In the first step, a “document review” takes place, in which a preliminary discussion is held on which documents are to be consulted for the audit and which technical infrastructure is to be used for this. In the next step, the contents are processed according to an audit plan with the parties involved.
Which software tools are suitable for performing remote audits?
In addition to the hardware such as laptop, smartphone or tablet, the interaction with suitable software plays a central role.
- Webmeeting Software
- Cloud services
- Messenger services
- Apps for digital checklists
- Audit Software
- QM Software
The optimal remote audit preparation – a checklist:
- Check the contact details (telephone number, e-mail address) of all audit participants. Are all contact details available?
- Is web meeting software installed and working?
- Can the remote audit be performed without external disturbances such as noise, lack of Internet connection, etc.?
- Are all documents and evidence available in digital form to be consulted during the audit?
- Can a stable Internet connection be guaranteed for the entire duration of the audit?
- Is a functional web browser installed on all end devices?
- Is suitable hardware available? Laptop/smartphone/tablet and can the required software solutions be accessed?
- Is a webcam for video transmission available and installed?
- Is there the possibility to use headsets?
- Has the process and audit plan been gone over with all stakeholders?
- Can confidentiality and privacy be ensured during audit breaks by muting or turning off the webcams?
- Finally, test all the tools you will be using during the audit.
Outlook – are remote audits the future even after Corona?
The trend toward conducting remote audits, especially for internal audits, will continue to grow. Remote assessments are an excellent method for integration into audit planning, but can and should never replace on-site audits. It must always be weighed up in the respective situation whether a remote audit is suitable. The current Corona pandemic in particular shows us how important flexibility and adaptability are in companies, so this method will continue to accompany us in our everyday work.
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