The future of auditing techniques
The field of auditing is evolving, just like the field of technology. The inexorable march of technology and digitalisation holds promise, especially for the future of second- and third-party auditing. If for many decades, pen and paper have been the tools in every inspector’s pocket, and auditing was an on-site job, be it a face-to-face meeting with an auditee teams and a chat or a coffee in the boardroom with a senior manager or director discussing the context and leadership, nowadays audits are becoming a dynamic process that is increasingly carried out through remote techniques.
Remote auditing, also known as virtual auditing, is the method of conducting an audit remotely by electronic methods such as a video conference, a phone call or a smart device talk to obtain evidence just like during an on-site audit. The use of remote auditing technique provides a springboard for tools such as file and screen sharing, real time record keeping, and live data analysis. Smart sensors, smart glasses and smart robots are the instruments introduced for smart inspections in the Industry 4.0. These technologies will fundamentally and, most probably, quickly transform the inspection process as it has been known so far.
So, the reader might be asking themselves what will happen to the audit technique that has been taught up until now. We would like to clarify that the traditional type of audits will keep the auditors asked about and capable to maintain the use of their auditing techniques and knowledge, which they have been using and practicing during on-site audits, including the skill of being open minded and diplomatic, as well the ability of listening and being respectful to the auditee team.
A possible future of third-party auditing
The transition to remote auditing will start in a relevant way, probably with the central authorities and certification bodies. Over the past 20 years, central authorities and certification bodies have transformed their overall images from cost centres that support company commitments to food standards to organisations that deliver measurable benefits for the entire food supply chain. The future of third-party auditing lies in specialisation and the use of technology to make the auditors’ role less intrusive and more cost-effective, and in finding better utilisations for the enormous amount of data they collect. This is why it is reasonable that we assist soon at the reorganization of the auditing tools with the common aim to consolidate the existing control practices, making them stronger and more tailored to the context, while also optimizing the costs and resources. So far, much has been written about the remote inspection’s potential to lower the cost of audits without compromising on the safety of the food chain, but with so few active pilots to back it up, it is sometimes hard to distinguish progress from promise. What is clear, however, is that the major food producers need better visibility of upstream suppliers and that there is enough maturity to provide it. Upstream visibility is not only required for safety reasons; the highly aware consumers, who are empowered by the Internet of Things, are more and more frequently demanding evidence of a socially responsible supply chain for their food. They want to know where the product was sourced from and learn about the conditions under which it was manufactured and harvested.
How smart glasses work: You see what I see through a pair of smart glasses
Wearable technology such as smart glasses may provide an answer for the global food manufacturers. An operator not trained in food safety could conduct a basic audit wearing smart glasses at a remote certification site while a trained auditor is directing the process and communicating with the wearer through audio-video feed from an office in another part of the world by sharing the surrounding scenery, all through augmented reality. This way, the remote operator would be able to see exactly what the person on site sees, and then quickly provide feedback during the audio/video streaming and receive the photos and videos that have been taken. This way, the collected material would be saved in a cloud, thus allowing it to be shared and viewed both in real time as well as later on. This technology allows shorter reaction times in solving non-conformity issues and eliminates most of the additional, non-value paper administration. One of the benefits of this technology is also the ability of auditors to receive and share data, review documentation and data on processes, conduct interviews, and make observations with auditees from around the globe without the need of commuting to the audited site.
Once again, smart technologies will assist in and simplify the work, keeping it safe and effective as it has always been, while at the same time improving the level of sustainability with important savings on resources.