By Suneel Kumar
Remote auditing (RA) has become the norm during the Covid-19 pandemic and is one of the audit methods prescribed in ISO 19011:2018—“Guidelines for Auditing Management Systems.” Although RA has surged due to pandemic constraints, this method of operation will surely gain ground as a routine audit technique.
During a remote audit, auditors engage with a company via technology to assess its QMS. The audit covers the usual steps, including a documented information review, interviews, and presentation of the findings, by using various information and communications technology (ICT) platforms.
Remote audits can be divided into:
• Fully off-site remote audit
• Partial off-site remote audit
• On-site remote audit
In the case of a fully off-site remote audit, the assessment audit is carried out completely away from the site. Partial off-site audits are conducted through a combination of remote and on-site checks to verify compliance. For on-site remote audits, the audit is carried out at the site but through synchronous ICT platforms.
In its general recommendations for remote auditing the ISO/IAF document “ISO 9001 Auditing Practices Group: Guidance on Remote Audits” has sections for each of the remote audit’s program, planning, realization, and conclusion, as seen in figure 1.
On-site remote surveillance audit
An on-site remote audit at our facility was chosen for a surveillance audit during Covid-19 by the certification body (CB). Being a defense establishment, confidentiality, security, and data protection were of prime concern for our organization; hence, the on-site RA was considered.
The operational setup for the on-site remote audit established a main auditor station with appropriate ICT, including a computer, camera, and a virtual conference application. Other stations were created for the auditees to link with the CB auditors over the ICT platform. Another station was created as a control center from which the QMS coordinator oversaw the activities virtually. The setup is depicted in figure 2.
An operational validation for the RA setup was carried out through a mock audit drill among the QMS coordinators, organizational lead auditors, and auditees on the synchronous virtual platform through the local area network, as seen in figure 3.
This rehearsal revealed challenges related to the ICT platform, including training and awareness sharing critical documented information, and bandwidth issues. These challenges were identified and confirmed before the actual audit.
The bulk of the clauses were audited through the remote process, starting with a virtual opening meeting. The desktop review, virtual live meetings and interviews, audit trails, previous audit results, and internal compliances were also part of the virtual audit process. The interviews included appropriately sampled representatives of management and departmental members. The audit closure and presentation of findings were also conducted virtually. Finally, the CB issued the certificate with no nonconformities identified.
The overall schedule that was followed is shown in the table below:
The remote/virtual audit proved to be a boon for our organization. It was an effective audit, keeping the Covid-19 safety norms intact by ensuring social distancing and no personal contact, but still allowed relevant information for the audit process to be shared.
The RA method reduced audit costs and proved to be time effective. Looking at these advantages, our establishment is definitely considering remote audits as a viable option in the future.
- ISO 19011:2018—“Guidelines for Auditing Management Systems”
- IAF ISO 9001—“Auditing Practices Group Guidance on: Remote Audits”
- IAF ID 12:2015—“Principles on Remote Assessment”
About the author
Suneel Kumar works in inspection, quality, and metrology for aero engine development at GTRE, Bangalore. He has more than 16 years of experience in these fields. He is an ASQ-certified CQE and an IRCA-certified QMS lead auditor as well as CMM certified, ASNT NDT Level II (MT, PT, UT, RT). He has presented various technical papers in conferences conducted by Metrology Society of India (MSI), the Indian Society for Non-Destructive Testing (ISNT), and the Coordinate Metrology Society (CMS).