Will today’s best practices be standard operating procedure by 2020? Will they be old-fashioned compared to what’s considered best practice in the future? “Best practices are in the eye of the beholder, aren’t they?” says Carolyn Saint, vice president, internal audit, at international convenience-store chain 7-Eleven. “I’d say the thing most likely to change is the way we communicate our findings.”
Today, internal audit departments rely largely on text to report to auditees and stakeholders, she explains. In the future, a best practice could be to digitize the work to a greater extent and rely more on infographics — and perhaps even interactive data visualizations — to convey meaning rather than pages of text and the occasional embedded table.
In the coming years, auditors will need to be equipped with a broader assortment of tools gained through varied experiences and training that expands their ability to connect new ideas to the audit process, Saint says. “This will change the way individual projects and the audit function itself are staffed,” she adds, “the way that progress is measured, and the way that people can differentiate themselves within an organization.”
The way in which audit departments are managed may also change. Managing the audit department of the future will be a juggling act, Saint says, with at least five balls in the air all at once:
- Ensuring the group has the skills and competencies needed for broad mandates.
- Resourcing the team as leanly as possible to accomplish the company’s mission.
- Incorporating the use of technology into work in a more meaningful way.
- Providing engaging work and career progression for team members in a flexible environment.
- Being an exporter of talent to the business.
“Innovative internal audit departments will need to be managed and organized differently — less siloed — than they typically are today,” Saint says.
But despite these differences, and an array of other anticipated changes, many audit practices may still remain the same. “Auditors will still conduct their work according to The IIA’s standards and their professional judgment,” Saint says. “We’ll still be assessing the effectiveness of controls and risk management, the efficiency of processes, and the safeguarding of assets. Those are evergreen mandates that define us. But we will differentiate ourselves by continuing to hone our messages to communicate business value and meaningful, actionable insights.”
For additional insight on the future of the profession, see “Internal Audit in 2020.”