IT – Information Technology, the study or use of electronic equipment, especially computers, for storing, accessing, analysing and sending information ~ Oxford Dictionary
As is the case in many avenues of modern life, the impact of rapidly advancing information technology (IT) systems and resources are changing the outlook on how we go about our daily lives. Whether it’s ordering groceries or take-out online, using streaming services for music and video entertainment or researching and applying for finance for a major capital acquisition, the impact of advanced IT systems have simplified and, in many ways, revolutionised these processes. You only need to look as far as the ongoing conflict between traditional taxi services and Uber in South Africa to see how quickly the advancements in IT can significantly change the landscape for a provider of services.
Taking these industries and comparing them to what they were 5 or 10 years ago, it’s quite astonishing how quickly these changes have flowed into our every-day life and become second nature. Even in our country, beset by some unique challenges and frustrations at the best of times, the implementation of these systems has created a vast number of opportunities for new businesses and entrants to an ever-changing market. Similarly, the audit industry is also adopting new systems and utilising the power of IT to increase productivity, provide more relevant feedback to clients and create new services and solutions for a market that is expecting innovation on all fronts.
When it comes to IT, it is important to consider each aspect, from the very basic to the very complex, when analysing how you adopt and integrate various technologies within an auditing firm. Starting at the basic, you need the appropriate hardware (laptops, servers, dongles, etc.) and software (office suite, auditing software, customer relationship management (CRM) software, etc.) to perform your day-to-day tasks and keep information secure. Reaching a point where these systems are functioning as desired and one audit starts as another is being finalised, it’s easy to fall into a routine of trying to push these tools to the limit of productivity and simply churn out product after product.
However, when taking the IT implementation a step further and considering Data Analytical software, the possibilities of what can be produced for qualitative value-add for clients is suddenly vastly extended. Instead of a sample-based approach, imagine the entire population of a client’s database being subject to analysis and intense, factual scrutiny at the click of a button. All invoices raised on which VAT has not been claimed, generated as a single report in seconds, could potentially identify real Rand-value to a client and is quantifiable immediately. Identifying patterns and duplicates in databases of literally hundreds of thousands of entries could provide insights into potential erroneous or fraudulent activity in expense accounts and payments made.
The insights, factual results and qualitative value added to your client would present a new branch in your service delivery portfolio and also increase the perceived value your firm can add to a business. You would genuinely be in a position where you can understand the underlying information that makes your clients’ businesses tick. Harnessing this power of understanding is not only something we should strive towards as a company motto but something that we must incorporate on a much more practical and tangible level for each of our clients.
Going even a step further in the process of fully exploring IT within an auditing environment, there is the IT Audit. An undertaking where the client’s IT systems and infrastructure are evaluated, tested and reported on from all relevant aspects. These audits not only consider the actual hardware and software used by the client but go deeper into the governance of the IT environment within the client’s organisational structure, evaluation of policies and procedures as well as business continuity plans. This in depth look at the approach taken towards IT is proving invaluable to businesses worldwide as the challenges faced aren’t limited to those regarding implementation but also to safeguarding the systems in place.
Being able to provide these additional services and leveraging the IT resources and opportunities that this dynamic field has created is certainly the next big leap that all audit firms must take. In a world that is changing faster than ever before and client expectations for us as auditors to not only keep up, but in some cases, assist them in making the right decisions when it comes to implementation of new systems or evaluation of potential risks, we must ensure that we’re not only willing but also ready and able to meet those expectations.
Senior Manager: IT & External Audit, Cape Town