Innovative, disruptive technology represents a key focus for today's organizations. With increasing regularity, we hear about a new technological advancement that will completely change the way businesses, and even internal audit functions, operate. And while some auditors welcome these developments, others shy away from them, often worrying how the technology could affect their work. But we have become accustomed to adapting to the business environment and using it to showcase our value. In fact, adaptation is not just an important part of our work — it's a professional imperative. Internal auditors must embrace and leverage technological innovations, or risk becoming obsolete.
Neglecting to familiarize ourselves with new technologies impacting organizations will cause us to fall behind and become less relevant to stakeholders. Internal auditors cannot possibly provide meaningful assurance or add value if we don't keep up with the latest developments and factor them into our work. There is no shortage of information available on topics such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, and there is no excuse for neglecting to research them. Not only do we shortchange our clients by ignoring these areas, but we also cannot make the technologies work for us without first understanding their capabilities and potential applications.
Ignorance of technological change prevents internal auditors from leveraging innovative tools as multipliers of capacity. While AI will almost certainly eliminate some jobs, the Gartner Research report Predicts 2018: AI and the Future of Work forecasts a net jobs increase due to AI by 2020. Imagine a situation where manual and tedious internal audit tasks are automated, allowing practitioners to focus on driving real value to the organization. While this scenario only scratches the surface of what may be possible with AI, it illustrates the powerful, multiplying effect of using the technology.
Ultimately, neglecting to grasp and absorb technological change is a disservice to ourselves, the organization, and the profession. The IIA has taken a clear stance on professional development through Standard 1230: "Internal auditors must enhance their knowledge, skills, and other competencies through continuing professional development." There is no better skill to develop than one that will ensure the future relevancy of our profession.
For internal auditors to genuinely embrace technology and leverage its potential multiplying effect, we must act without fear to understand the possibilities, keep an open mind, and continually evolve. But at the same time, technological advances should never be used to replace our skills — they should augment them. As always, the skills that will set auditors apart in the digital age will be the ability to think critically and communicate clearly. The most successful future audit leaders will be those who can understand and leverage technological change, as well as clearly articulate its potential impact to stakeholders.