by Shauna Wilson
In my travels, I am learning from others that some third-party registrars are not accepting internal audits that are conducted virtually. This growing concern over auditing methods is the antithesis of modern work environments. Obviously, a virtual audit is conducted for a remote office, in which most of the time, teams are working together online to communicate and resolve issues. Shouldn’t the audit method replicate the actual working environment? In this article, I will examine e-auditing validation criteria, the use of the context of the organization, and conclude by reviewing other opportunities gained using e-auditing methods.
An e-audit is a systematic, independent, and documented process to obtain evidence through electronic means to determine the extent of conformity to the audit criteria. The use of e-auditing is increasing because so much of the technology we use in our daily lives—connecting with friends on Skype, finding jobs through LinkedIn, or attending online classes—is done over the Internet. These activities become a gateway to enhancing and applying online communication techniques. The more familiar we become with technology, the less anxious we feel about its interactive uses.
Validating an e-audit relies on the technology used and the auditor’s skill to facilitate a virtual meeting while coordinating with the remote location to find nonconforming evidence. This coordination of events is not an easy task without technical grounding in information technology and facilitation skills. Realistically speaking, a fair amount of registration auditors are limited in this area due to their intense travel schedules. At best, they are passive listeners in “all hands” online meetings. This is not a reason to stop conducting internal audits virtually. Note that ISO 9001:2015 itself and its requirement to understand the context of the organization seems to be a tacit endorsement of the e-auditing process.
ISO 9001:2015 provides an illustration of how complex businesses have become to compete in a global market to offer affordable products. For example, products that contain batteries often make headlines. We can no longer carry a Samsung Note 7 on an airplane or fly with a motorized skateboard. Let’s examine a fictional scenario to apply the “context of the organization” requirement with e-auditing methods.
Battery ABC Co. is a research and development laboratory that designs and manufactures lithium batteries in a small but powerful format, enabling longer charges and lighter cell phones, tablets, and watches. Battery ABC Co. relies on external providers to manufacture its batteries. Based on the following strengths-weaknesses-threats-opportunities (SWOT) analysis, what internal audit plan does the company’s management team need to mitigate both internal and external issues to meet the needs and requirements of all parties?
In this scenario, management should consider a hybrid audit model. This would incorporate multiple verification methods: onsite audits, e-audits, document information reviews, and product testing to understand the supply chain quality management system. An audit plan should include design and development, the release of product at remote locations, and external provider reviews to ensure manufacturing processes are managed appropriately. External provider reviews could include line yields and defect Pareto charts, process e-audits, and product testing by a third-party lab to ensure the battery meets product specifications and regulatory requirements.
A hybrid audit model approach is necessary for organizations of this nature to completely verify internal and external issues and that interested parties’ needs and requirements are met. The following chart shows an example of a hybrid audit management plan.
e-auditing is an efficient and effective method for risk-based thinking, working with external providers to ensure process controls are in place, reviewing product-related issues real time, and enhancing understanding among all interested parties. Companies that invest in e-auditing allow remote locations to learn from one another. They gain a better understanding of remote processes and can leverage and standardize common processes across distant locations. Rather than refuse e-auditing methods, training to use technology while facilitating an audit should be a priority of internal and external auditors.
About the author
Shauna Wilson is president at Amazon Consulting Inc. She is a performance management consultant who designs efficient and effective quality systems. Wilson is an IRCA-certified auditor and leading expert in remote auditing. She holds a Master’s degree in performance management technologies/instructional design. Wilson wrote InterneTeaming.com: Tools to Create High Performance Remote Teams and co-authored eAuditing Fundamentals: Virtual Communication and Remote Auditing and has been featured in Quality Progress and ASTD’s InfoLine. Wilson is the education/social responsibility chair at ASQ’s Portland, Oregon Section 607 and currently serves as the U.S. TAG expert for PC/TAG 302 ISO 19011 auditing management systems.