How Effective is Remote Auditing for Managment Systems Certification Audits?

How effective is remote auditing?

How effective is remote auditing for management systems certification audits?  To answer that question, the German Society for the Certification of Management Systems (DQS), a global certification body, surveyed 5000 IAAR clients and more than 500 auditors in 2019.  DQS is a member of the IAAR (Independent Association of Accredited Registrars) which is a consortium of 31 Certification Bodies (CB) to promote consistency of the certification process. The survey was created by the IAAR Remote Auditing Working Group so the data could be utilized to improve the remote auditing process and to determine the best use of technology for future auditing activities. 

DQS received approximately 760 responses to six questions regarding their remote auditing experience. 65% of the respondents were certified to more than 1 standard, but the majority of the responses (84%) were from ISO 9001 certified companies.  An interesting result of the survey indicated that 58% of customers and 76% of auditors were open to remote audits. (Note that this was even before the Coronavirus impacted the world).  For clients the main incentive was to reduce travel expenses.

For more than a year, simpleQuE auditors have been conducting remote 2nd party audits when requested by clients. Below Jim Lee, simpleQuE President, summarizes the survey results and provides his observations (in italics) of remote auditing.

  1. Approximately 24% of respondents indicated that technology issues occurred during the remote audit which had some impact in the auditor’s ability to execute the overall audit objectives, but a majority saw no difference.  Jim Lee – There are a variety of issues that can occur, I’ve been involved in an audit where the wireless connectivity in the plant was poor, so video conferencing was next to impossible. Audio quality is another big challenge.
  2. 9% of those surveyed noticed some or obvious competency gaps where Certification body auditors had difficulty using appropriate technology platforms, virtual tools, and/or techniques when conducting a remote audit.  Jim Lee – For example: Some customers are only allowed to use Microsoft Teams for their web meetings and can’t participate using any other software tools, so some auditors may not be experienced with that platform.  Good advance planning and communication are key.
  3. While 9% saw an increase in non-audit time for a remote audit, about 19% actually saw a decrease in non-audit time in their last remote audit
  4. More than 80% felt that the remote audit did not affect the auditor’s abilities to identify potential concerns or nonconformances compared to previous onsite audits.
  5. About 19% saw some loss of effectiveness with their remote audit, while 21% saw an increase in effectiveness in their remote audit versus onsite.

Jim Lee – Overall, remote audits at some level are probably here to stay. Any historical audit where the audit occurred in the conference room (i.e. audit of management review, or internal audits, etc.) could easily be done remotely.  There may be justification for some types of companies to continue 100% with remote audits, but for manufacturing companies there must be some onsite time to be more effective.  Even good auditors can’t rely on videos of a production process to audit the effectiveness of the process and do an adequate job following audit trails that take them away from the video and photographs.  The process audit approach wants to see the linkages and interactions with related activities of upstream and downstream events, which might explain the increased audit time by some certification body auditors.  There’s just too much that can be missed and overlooked (and hidden) when a good auditor is not onsite looking at the production activities, which are the most significant to product quality and customer disruptions.

 I think the good CB auditors have found ways to be effective, while the poor auditors just get by checking off the boxes to complete a task without digging deep.  Time is always a problem to get the audits done, and delays with technology and slowing the steps to follow audit trails, just lead to less effective audits with smaller sample sizes.  While the pandemic continues, remote auditing will be here to stay at a higher frequency.  This survey provides some interesting insights to show remote audits can be done, and possibly more effectively 21% of the time, and the same effectiveness 60% of the time.

Click here to see the survey results and comments for each question. 

Read our blog post for tips on preparing for your remote audit

SimpleQuE is not associated with the IATF®, IAOB, ANAB®, IAQG®, and is not a certification body. SimpleQuE is an independent consulting, training, and second-party auditing service provider that assists a company on a path to obtain and maintain certification through accredited certification bodies.

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