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Tax & AccountingOctober 01, 2020

The Future of Audit is Workflow Automation

A common misconception of the audit community has long been that engagement management software is enough to complete a quality audit within the budgeted time. While this may hold a ring of truth for documentation and fieldwork, when considering the entire A&A engagement — from initial scheduling to binder close — standalone engagement management software doesn’t complete the process. The complete audit process represents a vortex of tasks, handoffs, reviews, and communication points across teams. Factor in compressed deadlines, ever-increasing regulation, and frequent, unexpected changes over the life cycle of the engagement, and it’s easy to see how quickly visibility and accountability can quickly become compromised and control is lost.

While engagement management solutions are an integral part of the audit workflow, they are not enough if a firm wants to operate at peak productivity levels. Top firms know that workflow automation is necessary to maintain target levels of efficiency and productivity. Combined, engagement management and workflow solutions support an end-to-end digital process that enables greater efficiency and increases firm-wide resource capacity.

Anyone who has worked in audit understands the exceptional challenges an audit team faces — from a nonlinear, multi-point process to compressed deadlines and frequent late-night status updates. Implementing a workflow automation solution like XCMworkflow® can help solve some of the pain points that tend to be inherent in an audit engagement, such as:

Process inconsistencies that force managers and seniors to adapt to disparate requirements and approaches — at times performing the same work multiple times in varying formats. With process management through workflow automation, a single, streamlined, and optimized process increases efficiency and reduces unnecessary rework.

Constant status update requests and the inability to adapt to unexpected events further complicate the process and heightens the risk of missed deadlines and errors. One of the single largest benefits of implementing a workflow solution is the capacity gained back by reducing status meetings and ad hoc requests. XCMworkflow customers tell us each person in their offices saves 19 minutes per day on average – time they had previously spent searching for status updates and tracking task-specific information. When reporting can be customized to automatically send out daily status updates, and real-time updates are available on-demand access, there’s no need to play “telephone” or call meetings for the same purpose. 

Ever-increasing regulation and quality control requirements add to process complexity and workloads while tightening the time crunch with no added flexibility on deadlines. While workflow doesn’t remove these regulations, with the correct workflow automation solution, these requirements can be documented and tracked to ensure consistency between staff and year-over-year.

Single point of (knowledge) failure — workflow is interrupted when a key team member leaves, taking valuable client knowledge and important correspondence from their email account. Implementing workflow automation means that all of this information is collected under a central repository and can be viewed on-demand.

Changing priorities combined with inflexible deadlines cause added strain on staff that often leads to turnover. Priorities frequently change as newer data arrives, but a priority change shouldn’t be cause for operations to come to full-stop. With the right workflow and productivity enablement solution, real-time, on-demand staff and resource availability is at your fingertips. And because workflow automation and standardization has provided the firm with time savings, the firm has the capacity to meet those unmovable deadlines.

Ineffective scheduling translates into lost time and money when billable hours are not maximized (i.e., manually tracked within an Excel spreadsheet). A cloud-based workflow solution not only gives you the necessary visibility to schedule staff and resources based on availability, but it becomes the single source of truth, rather than depending on spreadsheets that can be copied, overwritten, and corrupted.

The days of standalone solutions are over, especially in the exceptionally complex and chaos-driven world of A&A engagements. Implementing a workflow automation solution arms Managers and Partners with a powerful platform to achieve visibility, control, flexibility, and accountability throughout an engagement. Workflow fuels productivity by offering visibility across multiple engagements simultaneously, providing Managers a 360°, real-time view of data, deadlines, and progress. And with complete visibility and greater control over processes, you increase staff accountability and increase capacity.

Audit engagements can be daunting… but they don’t have to be. With the right technology in place, you can end the vicious cycle of long hours, drain on management’s time, and blown budgets. With workflow automation at the core of the A&A process, you really can achieve complete visibility, control, flexibility, and accountability.

Glen Keenan, CPA
Author at Tax & Accounting

As the Vice President of Firm Management at Wolters Kluwer, Glen has a passion for the paperless workpaper environment, internal controls, and risk assessment. Having spent many years with Deloitte, Glen has extensive public accounting experience and is a frequent speaker on technology and practice management issues. He has presented at regional and national events and is a regular contributor and resource for industry journals and periodicals.