Whoever says internal auditors can't be innovative hasn't met the Group Audit team at Assicurazioni Generali. The team is so inventive, it established a digital factory to spur technology advances for the company's auditors worldwide, to the benefit of Group Audit's business partners.
Assicurazioni Generali, based in Trieste, Italy, is one of the world's largest global insurance and asset management providers. With more than 72,000 employees in 50 countries, Generali's goal is to provide innovative and personalized solutions to its customers through an extensive, global distribution network. Innovation and digital transformation are key to Generali's strategy.
In support of that strategy, Generali Group Audit launched its Digital Factory to coordinate all of its digital projects. Innovation is about people, and the factory steers cross-country initiatives and involves colleagues around the world through a dedicated network, a common approach, and specific training focused on four key areas: technology, statistics, data science, and business innovation.
Group Audit's Digital Strategy
Generali's Group Audit is an independent and objective assurance function that examines and evaluates the adequacy and effectiveness of the company's internal controls and all other elements of its governance system. Group Audit provides assurance and advisory activities for the benefit of administrative and management/supervisory bodies, as well as senior management and other stakeholders.
Group Audit's digital strategy consists of two fundamental pillars — digital assurance and innovation of the audit function.
Digital Assurance Group Audit contributes to organizational innovation by providing assurance on new technologies, aiming for a clear understanding of new risks associated with them. Machine learning, the Internet of Things, blockchain, drones, cloud computing, big data, analytics, and bots are making business processes more efficient, agile, and insight-driven. However, these opportunities involve new risks — and controls — that require internal audit's attention.
Group Audit must first fully assess the impact of technological innovation and understand how each new element modifies the Group's risk profile. The digital assurance pillar complements the Digital Factory, enhancing oversight on such evolving risk profiles, competencies, and emerging technologies. A dedicated pool of auditors, supported by subject-matter experts, developed specific audit programs to provide assurance on new digital technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI). Ad hoc training is delivered to the entire audit community regularly to create global awareness of new risks and prepare local teams to execute the audits.
Audit Innovation Internal audit implements new technologies to develop, automate, and continuously improve audit processes, services, and reporting. Such initiatives are disruptive, considering the auditor's work as it existed.
Group Audit operations are constantly evolving through the application of, and experimentation with, digital technologies. Data analytics, robotics, and AI offer endless opportunities.
Key to the effort, as U.S. author Jonathan Kozol cites, is to choose battles big enough to matter, but small enough to win. The final goal of each digital initiative is to enhance assurance, timeliness, efficiency, and effectiveness to the benefit of Group Audit's business partners.
In such an evolving scenario, two main factors are key to the success of Group Audit:
- Enhancing its role within the company's innovation journey. New skills and a new mindset are necessary, supported by adequate investments in dedicated upskilling programs.
- Innovating the audit function to the next level through a collaborative leadership model, specifically by: building a global vision, involving the Group Audit community in the initial brainstorming and design phase, maintaining proactivity and commitment in the working groups, implementing new solutions, and collecting feedback.
- The Group Audit Digital Factory is key in delivering on Group Audit's strategy. Here are some examples of projects launched to date by the Factory.
The Digital Global Competence Center
People are key to the Group Audit digital strategy and to fostering digital enhancements and upskilling.
The Group Audit Digital Global Competence Center was established to allow colleagues around the world to leverage a dedicated network, common approach knowledge base, and specific training.
Support of the Group Audit analytics promoters is key. These promoters comprise a team of ambassadors located worldwide, supporting local audit teams, promoting groupwide use of data analytics, and fostering digital initiatives. They supported the development and launch of a specific upskilling program covering four key areas — technology, statistics, data science, and business innovation.
New technology will only provide value if the promoters encourage and help auditors use it effectively; the technology is just an enabler.
The Community Portal
The Group Audit Community Portal provides a common place for all Generali auditors worldwide to stay in touch, interact, share information, and work more effectively when remote.
Accessible via computers and mobile devices, the portal enables local audit functions in all countries to meet virtually, share ideas, discuss and engage on new digital initiatives, and stay in touch.
Information within the portal — including the most recent internal audit news and events, reference documents, common libraries, and survey results — is organized in a way that is easy to access. The "Coffee Machine" is an informal channel within the portal where auditors can share positive messages, friendship, ideas, and challenges.
The new platform has not only helped the community stay connected during the pandemic, but it also has facilitated a new way of collaboration that will continue in the post-pandemic world.
Global Data Analytics Software
Group Audit has adopted dedicated data analytics software — a comprehensive, powerful, and easy-to-use tool for quickly analyzing 100% of available data. Benefits obtained using the tool include:
- Increased audit coverage of company data, resulting in greater assurance.
- Enhanced consistency across thematic audits through standardization of tests and central support.
- Optimized assessments through reuse of analytics controls over time and across countries (data analytics control libraries).
Standard toolkits are available to the audit community to support audit execution, including a test writing kit, libraries, scripts, pre-filled templates, statistical techniques, and visualization techniques.
Robin (ROBot + INnovation) is the team's new internal audit assistant, a robot that can support internal auditors full time worldwide in the issue-monitoring process through automated data quality checks, creation of reports (in Excel and PowerPoint), and preparation of draft emails to colleagues in audited areas.
The idea is a result of an RPA Survey launched in Group Audit in February 2020 to collect proposals for automation from the various business units — prioritizing them based on a cost-benefit analysis.
Robin will not replace internal auditors but will help them in the execution of manual and repetitive tasks, freeing up time for more substantive work.
The Group Audit Data Lab
Group Audit has launched a smart, online, and mobile data lab to enable intuitive interactions for audit data monitoring and executive reporting; the Group Audit's way to explore, discover, and act.
The tool encompasses the audit value chain with dedicated online reporting related to the audit universe, risk assessment and planning, audit execution, issue follow-up, and internal control system monitoring.
Two applications have launched:
- A set of interactive dashboards developed through a visual analytics tool connected to Group Audit's audit management system, enabling intuitive interactions, drill-down capabilities, and detailed analyses. It also is used for executive reporting.
- New exploitation of the audit management system data visualization functionalities for auditors' and managers' operational reporting. It is ready for use to support daily tasks.
Group Audit is considering opportunities to leverage data visualization to enhance communication and reporting for business partners.
Aladdin (Audit Lean Answers Digital Interface) is the first Group Audit chatbot designed to support auditors, leveraging AI technology.
Aladdin provides answers to methodological questions and makes standard templates available for download upon request. It is always available to the Group Audit Community on the homepage of the audit management system.
Aladdin is young, but the chatbot is expected to grow fast. The regular monitoring of interactions between the internal auditors and Aladdin enables Group Audit to improve its capabilities and to identify the most frequently discussed topics for future enhancements.
Smart Search With Intelligent Optical Character Recognition (IOCR)
SearchE is a Group Audit application based on IOCR technology that allows internal auditors to search keywords and sentences (a Google-like search) within a set of digital and nondigital native documents, such as scanned copies, returning as results any documents containing the requested words or sentences.
SearchE supports audit fieldwork in all cases in which document analysis is required, including contracts, invoices, and policies.
Group Audit has defined comprehensive audit programs to provide assurance on RPA and AI, encompassing the full risk spectrum: strategy and governance, legal and compliance, technology, operations management, security and data protection, and human capital and sustainability.
Considering the spread of new technologies across business processes, all auditors throughout the organization should have a basic understanding of RPA and AI. The central team organizes training and coordinates local teams to conduct engagements worldwide, creating synergies and ensuring a deeper understanding of digital processes.
Contributing to the Transformation
Further applications of advanced analytics are now being implemented to enhance predictive and continuous monitoring of the organization's internal control system. The scalability of these initiatives ensures they are beneficial on a global scale and confirm Group Audit as a truly modern control function. They significantly contribute to enhance internal audit's work for the benefit of its business partners, engaging and energizing people as active promoters of the organization's transformation.