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There are many ways that project management can contribute positively to audit quality. It can assist with the management of the audit team and associated resources, with aspects of audit planning, execution and completion, internal and external collaborations and communications, optimising the economics of engagements, and more. When the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) reviewed results of root cause analysis (RCA) of audit weaknesses the shortlist of findings included ‘ineffective project management’.
In a previous Audit & Beyond article, we looked at How to improve audits with project management (at tinyurl.com/AB-Project-Manage). We considered the importance of audit project management, what a framework for this might look like and offered tips to assist firms in shaping and enhancing their approach. In this article we turn our attention to software.
Software can potentially be used to address various aspects of audit project management and this is reflected in the many different types of software and tech-enabled services that may be used to support and enable this. The approach you take will depend on many factors relating to the specific circumstances of your firm. These include, but are unlikely to be restricted to:
It may seem obvious, but for the avoidance of doubt it’s worth stating that when considering technology to enhance aspects of audit project management, the options are not limited to the sorts of tools that come neatly labelled or categorised as ‘project management software’ or specifically signpost their ‘project management’ functionality. For those who want to research and assess a range of options, a brief overview may be helpful.
Depending on the particular circumstances, preferences and priorities of your firm, you may or may not want or need to consider software and services from some or all of the following product groupings (being mindful that some products or services may sit comfortably in more than one grouping). To increase the utility of the following groupings, some of the many available products are offered as ‘examples’, but inclusion does not equate with recommendation.
1. Accountancy-specific and audit-specific systems with functionality that can (be accessed or switched on to) assist with aspects of audit project management.
Examples include the suites of tools provided by the likes of CaseWare and Iris, offering tools for practice management, audit automation and a great deal more accountancy-specific assistance. Karbon is another example, with its collaborative work management platform for accountants. Then there are audit management systems such as Circit and Wolters Kluwer TeamMate, and digital audit platforms such as Inflo.
2. Specialist project management systems that are not sector-specific. The term ‘project management software’ is used to describe software that can be used to manage a project with a start date, an end date and a deliverable (often including workflow automation functionality). You’ll also find the term being used to describe tools for managing ongoing work/workflow and collaboration (although the latter is also in category 3, below).
Examples of project management systems include: Asana, Ganttpro, Height, Hive, Microsoft (MS) Project, Monday, Teamworks, Trello, Smartsheet and Zoho Projects.
3. Software that addresses specific problems or use cases that could assist with some aspects of audit project management.
Some of these function in isolation, and some can be connected to work with other systems, and some ‘add-ons’ operate only when connected to another system or systems (often, with the support of the application programming interfaces, more widely referred to as APIs).
When it comes to the automation of aspects of audit project management, examples range far and wide, from tools that can be used to manage and automate parts of the bank confirmation process (Confirmation), through those that keep engagement financials on track (Dayshape), to tools that enable secure online document sharing – and they are just a few of the many possibilities.
The latter product category alone includes myriad variations on the theme. Suralink, for example, offers a request list and document workflow platform that auditors can use to automate and organise their requests, share documents and track progress. There are also numerous data room and data vault tools and platforms that can be used to securely share and track documents. At one end of the spectrum are relatively simple solutions such as Dropbox Vault; at the other end are the various multifaceted options offered by providers such as Citrix and Microsoft.
4. General-purpose spreadsheets, some of which offer built-in and/or bolt-on functionality that may be used by auditors (and other professionals) for aspects of project management.
As well as the ubiquitous MS Excel, spreadsheet examples include Apple Numbers, Google Sheets and Zoho Sheets, to name but a few.
If your firm is an MS 365 subscriber, you may want to explore MS add-ins for Excel and Teams; this may come in useful for some aspects of audit project management, such as task allocation. Look out for Planner, Tasks by Planner and To Do, which will eventually be renamed as Tasks. Why pay for additional products and services if you don’t need to?
By virtue of its flexibility, the spreadsheet offers almost limitless possibilities. It could be as simple as entering your budget, task list, audit phases, man hours and other things you want to track into multiple sheets. Or you may want to create a visual timeline chart to help you map out a schedule and phases for each audit engagement. If you think a Gantt chart might help with progress tracking, use Excel to create one.
5. Low-code and no-code workflow and business process management tools and platforms that can be used to model, develop/build and deploy automated workflow and processes – both simple and complex – by people with little or no formal coding expertise. These typically work on the ‘drag and drop’, visual design principle. Pre-built functionality and re-usable components that represent particular steps or capabilities can all be connected to create workflows, automate processes and build complex applications. Some of the categories above offer this potential for use with their products so that users can extend and or tailor the functionality already on offer. There are also standalone low-code and no-code tools available.
A recent two-page Audit & Beyond article explored the audit automation possibilities of no-code and low-code tools, so we won’t go into any more detail here.
None of the grouping types or products mentioned are necessarily better or worse than each other, or better able to meet your firm’s needs; there are simply too many variables to consider.
As with many software-related decisions, somebody in your firm will need to do some research. When assessing and comparing products, be sure to consider matters such as: ease of use and implementation, features, functionality, privacy and security, customer support and cost. These can all vary widely.
At some point on your journey, try to make time to explore products that are available as free versions and/or for time-limited free trials, particularly if you are a sole practitioner or in a small firm. It’s worth noting that some of the most expensive products are also the most fully featured and the most complex, so the price and the learning curve can be pretty high.
There’s a great deal of information available online to inform your decision-making process. Watch free demonstrations and check out what’s being said by members of user groups and product groups on social media. There are numerous product-related tutorials available from providers and ‘how to’ tips from users, and you can learn a lot from reviews. Hopefully, this article will equip you with some basic information to get you started.
“Be warned, project management is about a lot more than using software to plan and coordinate activities. IT is a useful tool, but can’t do the entire job for you.”
“Project management tools show us where things are with the audit, to avoid late surprises. They mean audit teams have a better understanding of the status of the audit at any point in the audit process.”
“Using workflow software to set up predefined sequences of steps for some processes and tasks can make things easier for those who are new to the audit team or less experienced.”
“We’ve got better at communicating our expectations to clients during the audit. Better project management technology means we can say: ‘You know what, you’ve not given us these things yet.’”
“If you haven’t used project management software, it’s hard to understand the appeal. There are free online offerings you can play with.”
“A lot of our time is spent in project management. We’ve got a lot of project management tools, so we can actually see the status of the audit.”
“Our project management tools monitor the status of the repository for deliverables and automatically send alerts to remind the client what’s outstanding.”
“When project management is not given the focus it needs, this can lead to inefficiencies within our audit work, which can have both commercial and, more importantly, risk implications.”
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