Change happens so slowly yet so suddenly. The way our lives have changed over the past few decades are testament to how fast things can change. We have technologically advanced more in the last 100 years than in any other 100 years in all recorded human history. Everything we do has changed, yet it is hard to pin down when the change occurred. We cannot really pinpoint the date when it became normal to shop for things over the internet instead of going to the store.
The same is true for cellphones. Look at how worried we get if someone’s phone is off – we start thinking that the worst must have happened. Parents would be horrified if they couldn’t get in touch with their kids via their phones. It is crazy to think that just a generation ago there were no cellphones. When we went out of the house, that was it, there was no way for us to get in touch with anyone unless we went to another phone located somewhere. It used to be perfectly normal to not be able to get in touch with someone but at some point, it just became unfathomable. Slowly, yet suddenly.
How audits have changed
The most remarkable thing about information technology is how it has fundamentally changed almost everything we have, and that includes audits. Think of how audits used to be before we all had computers. All information was stored on papers, and the auditors had to balance the books and investigate written records to find the information they needed. Imagine how tough things would be today if the auditors had to bring out all the finances and manually add everything and double-check the calculations to make sure that all the numbers are correct. While it was perfectly normal a few decades ago, it has now become an unthinkably inefficient process.
The most profound change is digital documentation. Every record is now digital. It makes things significantly easier for auditors. Back then, the auditors would either get all the records in huge boxes, and then they had to go through them manually. Sometimes there would be too many records to send via post, and the auditors would have to make a personal visit and stay on-site for a couple of days just so they would be able to get the information they need. Now, everything the auditors need is present in a server in digital form. They can access anything they want with a couple of clicks. If they don’t find something they need, they can send an email and get a reply within minutes.
Digital documentation also has another benefit besides making everything easier to access – it also makes the information searchable. Instead of manually sifting through hundreds of thousands of pages looking for the information that they need, the auditors can now simply search on their computers and all the documents which have the information that is included in the search string will be right in front of them. As you can imagine, this feature helps auditors a lot, because matching information across documents and other records is a core part of everything they do. Now, if they want more information about something, they don’t need anyone’s help, they can just search for the information.
The future of audits
While audits have evolved remarkably, it must be kept in mind that this is only the beginning of their evolution. The most significant change will be caused by artificial intelligence. While today’s audit management systems can deliver functionality far beyond anything that was possible until a few years ago, they are still limited. Many audit management software solutions incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning, but the reality is that a true artificial intelligence just doesn’t exist yet, and until it does, the current audit software solutions represent the nadir of audit technology.
The biggest limitation of these solutions is that the do not understand audits. While they automate many audit processes and introduce streamlined workflows, they cannot read a document and understand what it means. That is something only an artificial intelligence can do. Once we develop the technology, auditing may become completely automated. Imagine how powerful an auditing artificial intelligence would be. It would be able to read every document the business has in just a few minutes and would be able to understand everything that is written down in the documents.
It would then only need to spend a few minutes to analyze all the information and reveal any conflicts or errors in the information. Once we reach this technological era, there is no telling what the limits of the technology will be. A.I. will be able to build technology we cannot even imagine and introduce efficiency levels that simply weren’t possible before.