In the digital age, it’s time to revolutionize the audit.
The word “audit” has its roots in the Latin word “audire”, which means to listen. If you think about it, that makes a lot of sense! Auditing is a process of listening to the concerns of business owners/managers/employees, understanding what is happening in a corporate setting and pushing forward to improve the business, to drive change in new ways, and fortify the DNA of a company. But how can auditors achieve this?
The image of auditors, as well as how they operate, is pretty much out-of-date. Most people perceive an auditor as the enforcer or consultant guy or gal who’s a pretty big “know-it-all.” Conversely, auditors sometimes see themselves as “superheroes” who come in to save the day and are above the daily workings of the organization. Because of this disconnect and the silo mentality and structure of organizations, auditors tend to be very much outsiders.
In my opinion, the auditors of the 21st century should have more of the adaptability of farmers than the regimented approach of police or the heroism of masked crusaders.
Today’s digital world offers auditors new possibilities to “listen” to their companies’ concerns. Since their main task is to take a closer look at critical processes and activities to A) prevent negative things from happening and B) make improvements, it is not only important for the auditor to know which questions to ask before he can solve issues, but to find a common language to communicate about those issues with the person responsible.
The key to finding common ground lies in your company’s data. Big data within an organization has been shown to empower auditors to do their job better and push businesses forward. Until now auditors were facing a tough challenge. How could they peek into the big black box of their organization and properly inspect and analyze everything going on in there?
Finding the needle in the haystack with all that data requires the right tool, and I think process mining is just what auditors have been waiting for. Process mining is a big data analytics technology that can create full transparency into how companies run their operations. It collects data from a company's IT systems to reconstruct, visualize, and analyze processes in real time. This helps auditors see and understand how the company operates in reality and find non-conformant deviations to assess their impact.
In other words, auditors get a deep understanding how the process is working right now and determine how the company should be operating for maximum efficiency and productivity. In an audit, it’s all about achieving clarity. Auditors need to understand the patterns around processes. By using process mining, nobody has to speculate anymore—the data is speaking right in front of you!
When you think of any medium- to large-size business, you might think of different departments having different languages. End-to-end processes like procure to pay or order to cash cross traditional functional borders. The purchasing teams speak one language and the accounting teams speak another. When a process breaks down, it's tough for teams from various departments to work toward an optimal and timely solution when responsibilities are somewhat hazy, when the root cause of a problem is hidden in the process and there are mostly gut feelings to discuss. With process mining, however, it’s possible to identify root causes and start having data-driven conversations with the aim of learning and improving.
With process mining auditors assume a completely new role. They are speaking the same language and offering assistance rather than criticisms. It’s beneficial when everybody in the organization is working together to make data-driven decisions based on common understanding of the data.
Of course, process mining is not going to give you all the answers right away. One of my main mottos is “let data speak”. When you let this happen, you will start to ask more relevant and pointed questions about company data and critical processes. Why does the process deviate? What are the root causes for long throughput times? How can we automate the process further? How can we guarantee better compliance in the future? With process mining, the auditor can come prepared with good questions to foster good and solution-minded conversations.
Which, of course, is the whole point of the audit in the first place. The auditor shouldn’t come into the game with an all-inclusive generic checklist, pretending to have all the answers. Auditors are rather there to question, listen, and seek to understand what’s truly happening in the company.
As process mining is used in an organization as a way of updating the audit and making it more proactive, it also changes the role of auditors—making them pioneers. Modern auditors are no longer staying on the sidelines, they’re part of the modern business landscape, which is often complex, ambiguous and increasingly subject to disruptive changes. Process mining is instrumental in equipping auditors to take a much closer look at the risk universe of an organization and give advice based on what they see. The focus shifts from “fixing a problem” to fostering an organizational culture of communication, learning, and proactive change.
Celonis is the perfect solution for process owners and auditors alike to see what’s happening within the organization, determine the right questions to ask, and start up those conversations about how to improve. In fact, process mining is probably the most powerful when it’s placed in the hands of process owners. Using process mining as a permanent strategy in the organization is going to ensure your company stays observant of things that need improvement and on top of the market, in real time.
You know that there is much you can improve in your organization. You ask yourself, how to do that? How to deliver change? Shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect will get you far. Frequent, timely and problem-solving communication are companions on your journey. Aligning the interests of key stakeholders, including auditors, process owners, and every other responsible person in your organization with powerful data driven insights is a highly promising path when driving change.
Will you let your data speak so you can learn from it and change for the better?
Book now a webinar and see how your business can profit from process mining.
Dr. Lenz is Head of Corp. Audit Services at SAF-HOLLAND Group. He is a seasoned professional in economics and management and has extensive international experience delivering financial and audit leadership.