Continuous auditing: using “always on” auditing for public sector

Katja Freeman

Assurance is just the beginning of what executive leadership in public sector organizations seek from their audit teams today. In an evolving landscape, public sector auditors need to answer a range of emerging questions.

What new requirements are on the horizon, and how will strategic initiatives need to adapt? What risks and compliance issues threaten organizational performance?

Moreover, leaders increasingly seek this information in real time throughout the year, not just as part of a final report.

It’s a new type of role with new responsibilities, and the backward-looking processes and pre-defined checklists of traditional auditing are no longer enough. To effectively provide impact and demonstrate their value to the organization, audit teams must take a more proactive approach, adopt more agile methods and expand their scope.

Continuous auditing can help.

While traditional auditing follows a set schedule and timetable — gather data, compile analyses, rinse and repeat — continuous auditing is, as its name implies, “always on.”

While traditional auditing typically involves highly manual activities, continuous auditing takes advantage of technology such as automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic processes that transform how data is collected and analyzed. This enables teams to work more efficiently and frees up these skilled professionals for higher-level work.

Finally, where traditional auditing offers a snapshot of a discrete moment in time (often well after the fact), continuous auditing offers consistent insights in near-real time — enabling audit teams to identify and address issues at once. This advantage of continuous reporting also improves visibility and reporting capabilities, both of which establish accountability and transparency between organizational leadership and audit teams.

Amid rapid change and rising expectations — both internal and external — continuous auditing is an audit team’s secret weapon for keeping up and navigating their shift from assurance specialist to  providing valued impact. Here’s a breakdown of continuous auditing’s many benefits.

Continuous auditing builds credibility and trust

Public sector executive leaders want to ensure they’re making decisions with the most up-to-date, accurate data available. Continuous auditing helps audit teams provide timely and impactful recommendations, and earn trust and credibility with these organizational leaders and the public.

Continuous data collection and analysis enables errors to be detected right away and on an ongoing basis. This allows for far swifter correction and remediation than the older, periodic style. Automation decreases the risk of human error, and rules-based processes further optimize accuracy.

Audit teams can think of it almost like a second layer of control, ensuring that their assessments are watertight and stand up to scrutiny.

Furthermore, continuous auditing collects more data, more frequently. This provides audit teams, the public, executives and board members or audit committees to whom they report assurance that they’re making decisions with the most complete, up-to-date information available.

Continuous auditing broadens the view

With continuous auditing, audit teams and leadership also have a significantly greater scope of data to guide their decision-making. The audit management software used in continuous auditing is able to tap into data from across the organization: transactions, finances, processes, operations and beyond — enabling them to look broadly and dive deep when needed. Because this information is collected on a continuous basis, they’re able to surface it at any time.

This not only strengthens an audit team’s ability to identify issues on the traditional auditing checklist, but it also gives them an expanded view into the state of the organization. Do irregularities in transaction data indicate control failures or possible fraud? Could compliance violations impact performance?

As scrutiny rises in areas such as data privacy, cybersecurity and ethics and integrity, such enhanced visibility is essential.

Continuous auditing gets ahead of risk

As the purview of compliance and assurance expands into overall risk management, continuous monitoring gives audit teams superpowers for both immediate needs and future strategy.

Ongoing data collection and assessment enables constant risk awareness, so audit teams can work with their colleagues in IT and infosec to detect and address threats more swiftly.

Meanwhile, the collection of data across many systems, in concert with advanced analytics, enables teams to see patterns and connections across the organization.

Could a rise in noncompliance actions in one department or division indicate greater trends across the organization? How well are internal operations mapping against risk frameworks and taxonomies, particularly as regulations in areas like cybersecurity evolve?

These insights make audit teams a valuable advisor to their organization’s legal, risk management and executive leadership teams.

Continuous monitoring gives audit a say on performance

Now more than ever, executive leaders want to know which areas of the organization are operating as they should be and where lags and gaps could pose larger problems.

Audit teams are uniquely positioned to provide this insight. Their oversight, responsibilities and activities span the breadth of critical business functions: processes, objectives, risks, controls, technologies and more.

Continuous auditing strengthens auditors’ ability to join conversations about organizational performance. With the data now at their fingertips, they’re able to deliver a quick, early indication of a program’s or process’s effectiveness, or of gaps in need of remediation.

Continuous monitoring increases efficiency

Managing an expanding role and responsibilities takes time — something most audit teams don’t exactly have in abundance right now. Continuous monitoring can help here as well.

Digital audit management solutions enable accounts to be prepared faster, without compromising accuracy. Automation streamlines and accelerates time-consuming manual tasks. Finally, a continuous monitoring system enables audit work to be planned proactively, so that the team avoids the peaks and valleys of overwork before a big report or executive leadership meeting.

Continuous monitoring powers overall insight

All of this time saved and data collected — over time and across the organization — adds up. In the long term, continuous monitoring provides audit teams with a powerful foundation for their new role as trusted advisor.

Real-time data with a big-picture view enables valuable insight into risk, compliance and broader business issues: cost reduction strategies, operational efficiencies and suggestions for improving performance, managing requirements, and beyond.

In short: continuous audit brings auditors close to organizational processes, so these teams overseeing their organization’s critical audit functions can strengthen their ability to deliver insight and organizational value.

Get the granularity and insight you need, with time-saving automation, in Diligent’s continuous monitoring solution. Learn more.


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