As an auditor, you will be involved in automation for your own function and the business more broadly.
In this article, reference to automation and augmentation covers both scenarios i.e., where you are automating for audit purposes and where you are involved in audit activities related to the business adoption of automation.
If you have not yet considered automating some of your processes, you will likely start thinking about this in the near future.
Perhaps your thinking has been (or will be) triggered by one of these challenges (a.k.a. opportunities):
- Funding and resourcing challenges – deliver more with less
- Efficiency expectations – deliver results faster
- Executive expectations – deliver more value
But how you determine the direction to take is based on what your focus & objective is.
So let’s talk about two alternatives:
Automation generally focuses on automating tasks to increase efficiency and reduce effort. Efficiency- reducing manual tasks to reduce workload and associated costs.
Augmentation focuses on freeing people up to perform higher order activity. Effectiveness – reducing manual tasks to increase value, not just reducing salary costs.
There’s a subtle difference between these. But an important one.
Choosing the right objective is crucial for you, your organisation, and your team.
Our view is that augmentation is the better of the two. Focus on value, not just cost.
New approaches that use data, analytics, machine learning and technology can help augment human effort – that is, automating mundane processes so that your team can be freed up to focus on value-add activity – reducing time wastage.
This is not about job or staff reduction. Instead, it is about giving your team the space that they need to deliver the value that they were hired for.
Here are a couple of examples:
At the March 2019 KNIME Summit in Berlin, we heard from a senior procurement manager at a major global organisation. He told a story that will resonate with all of us. It went something like this:
In his work, he said, there are things that make him go “yeah” 😃:
- negotiating contracts
- dealing with people
- saving money for his company
Then there are things that make him go “hmmm” 😤:
- manually extracting data
- cleaning excel spreadsheets
- copying and pasting from spreadsheets to powerpoint presentations, etc.
So he was thrilled when someone in his company’s innovation team introduced him to a modern analytics platform.
He was able to implement an automated, repeatable workflow that significantly reduced the manual tasks that he performed.
Removing these manual tasks now means that he can focus on what he loves to do – why he chose the job/career that he did. He can add better value to his company, and faster.
We worked with an organisation with a large procurement function.
Their highly experienced buying team spend lots of time, every day, classifying purchase requisitions that were not correctly classified at point of entry.
By automating some of this manual data classification work – reducing this burden – those senior people can be freed up to focus on the value-add activity they were originally hired to do.
Again, a win-win.
These are simple stories.
But in both, it is clear that the objective was to free people up from the mundane and time-consuming tasks, to move them to higher order activity.
It was NOT about automating purely to save money. Yes, there is often a cost saving – but this should not be the only objective.
What is your automation objective – are you focused purely on cost or are you augmenting for value and a happier team?
Importantly, as an auditor, what are you doing to ensure that the right objective is selected?