BMTA Newsletter BMTA Newsletter - Spring 2020 | Page 13 The areas where remote auditing is not so effective however is in the manufacturing, waste management and construction sectors. Quite simply conducting an environmental management system audit of, for example, an abattoir using video technology is not as effective, the “feel” for the work environment is simply not the same (to be blunt the sounds and smells are a key part of the auditing as they are indicators of the effectiveness of the system implementation. In these industry sectors the best that you can achieve is a partial audit with some key areas being deferred for a later on-site assessment. Remote auditing has developed into an effective tool very quickly. With all tools however there is a risk of misuse, a hammer will eventually fix a screw into a timber but it is clearly not the best or most effective way to do so. The genie is now very much out of the bottle, remote audits have become the norm for all industries during the coronavirus outbreak, UKAS have recently announced that remote assessment will remain UKAS’s primary assessment technique until at least 1st October 2020 so for the foreseeable future remote assessing is the primary approach. For remote auditing to be truly effective relies upon three key factors: 1. Preparation and planning, when an auditor is on site the audit plan can be quite fluid, it is easy to just knock on a door and see if someone is available, remote audits require much more detailed planning. Our UKAS Assessment Manager and I spoke several times at length before our audit, planning individual sessions to ensure availability and this enabled the audit to run smoothly. As another example a remote audit I completed of a Russell Group University required the audit to be spread out over a week-long period with the audit team having individual 45 minute slots for interviews taking into account the home working obligations of the auditees. In both cases 6-8 hours of interaction with the auditee in the planning stage was required to deliver an effective remote audit. 2. The auditee and the auditor both being familiar with the technology, where this has not been the case remote audits have certainly been less effective. A case in point being our audit by UKAS, both UKAS and Advanced Certification personnel had experience using MS teams meaning that transferring screen control and screen sharing was seamless with no disruption to the flow of the audit. Having completed remote audits where the auditee has little to no understanding of the technology the audit becomes stilted and takes significantly longer. 3. The level of digitisation of the management systems and evidence is critical, trying to scan or photograph data during an audit again causes significant delays and frustrations. Even where there is confidence in the level of digitisation of records it has become increasingly common to identify that, for example, only 1 side of a calibration certificate has been scanned – the hard copy is sat in the lab but the digital record is incomplete. As an auditee the time taken to digitise everything may mean that, in some cases it may genuinely be impractical to complete a remote audit. Is remote auditing here to stay? Remote auditing has its place in the auditors toolkit alongside many other tools and techniques and for some auditors and in some circumstances will be the best tool for the job, in other cases it may be the best option available at the time and in other cases remote auditing will never be more than a stop-gap measure. Like all tools it takes skill and competence to use effectively and auditors are currently learning “on the job”, some will adapt and some will not. There is a danger with remote auditing techniques that continues to bother many in the certification industry; in the past certification bodies have (sometime fairly and sometimes unfairly) been accused of a race to the bottom in the way that auditor competence, audit time and audit conduct has been managed and delivered, remote auditing is certainly not the panacea that some may like us to believe; accredited certification has always had as one of its biggest positive points for end users the fact that a competent audit team will be at the physical location seeing, smelling, hearing and touching the company and it is important to ensure that remote auditing techniques deployed are capable of achieving the same degree of confidence to an end user. The certification industry must be wary of the problems that have beset other industries where ICT is the main tool (like customer contact and call centres) that have gradually become exported to international markets where wages and costs are lower and this has led to a perceived erosion of the service provided; do we really want remote auditing hubs set up where auditors conduct audits 24/7 across the globe never leaving their multi-screen terminals? This week (w/c 18th May) is Mental Health Week, so I think it worth making one final point about remote audits. Whilst being audited is a stressful time, having face-to-face contact and the ability to exchange pleasantries and interact with another human beings certainly allows for some change to relieve stress, auditors have many ways that they diffuse difficult situations and put the auditee at ease, this is much more challenging during a remote audit. Remote audits are typically an all or nothing affair so when one of my fellow auditors made the point to me during an audit that it was still very important to take 15 minutes during a remote audit session to simply ask “so how are you doing?” the message stuck with me, if remote audits are replacing physical audits then we need to make sure that we don’t lose some of the human element.