What farming taught me about internal auditing


As a kid, I remember my grandfather growing fruits and veggies on a track of land not quite small enough to be a garden but yet not big enough to be a farm.  Much of what was grown was for family use.  Some was grown to be sold.  He used very little automated equipment.  Therefore, the much of the digging and plowing and pulling was manually performed by him or his “helper” (guess who).

There was one device he used for something.  Okay, I was too young to really remember exactly what it was used for, however it was pretty important.  When it broke, it was explained to me that we would have to perform yet another task manually and that we would be set back by about 3 days.  I was upset, however, everyone else seemed to be okay with this new expectation.

It was later explained to me that there are many tools available to do a job.  Some tools are better and more efficient than others.  We have to strive to obtain the best tools for the job, however, if we cannot, we must use what we have while setting realistic expectations.

So how does this apply to auditing?  I remember working in one audit function that could benefit greatly from data analytics software.  We asked for funding and were denied on several occasions.  When the need came to analyze data, we used Microsoft Access.  Because of the nature of the data, this process took about 1 and ½ months.  This is something ACL or IDEA could have done in minutes.  Everyone was satisfied with the results of the project, however, some questioned the time.  We explained that used a tool that was not the best suited for the task at hand and therefore the expected turnaround was not feasible.  In other words, the expectation was not aligned with the tools and abilities.

Oftentimes organizations do not want to invest in tools for internal audit functions.  At the same time, unrealistic expectations may be set.  So, what farming taught me about auditing is:

  • Things constantly change without notice
  • There are many tools available to complete a task
  • Use what you have, but seek something better
  • Set or readjust expectations based on what you have
Here’s what I attempt to do when I do not have the appropriate tools to do a job:
  • Identify the appropriate resources
  • Quantify the cost (time, dollars, etc) of appropriate resources as well as the risk of not having the appropriate resources
  • Communicate the impact
  • Seek support
  • Set realistic expectations

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Robert Berry (108)

Robert (That Audit Guy) Berry is a risk, compliance and auditing advocate, educator and innovator. He helps good professionals become better by creating articles, web services and training that allow them to expand their knowledge network.

2 thoughts on “What farming taught me about internal auditing”

  1. Great article, Robert. Gonna share it in my own group.

    I have found in years as a freelance internal auditor (and indeed a IT consultant in general) that the best answer to your question is: build your own tool box to be independent of your clients.

    That may have it’s limits where it involves expensive kit, but works well for those challenges faced on a daily basis.

    A simple yet regular example is templates. When I join an audit team one of the first questions is: Do we have any templates for sampling, work papers, reporting etc.? Much more often than not the answer is silence and my reply then: Ok, here are mine.

    The productivity impact of these simple tools is as dramatic as the analytics example in your post, so much that the template example actually was the starting point for my book “Essential Audit Skills”. To me good tool usage is part of being a skilful auditor.

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