How do you transform the internal audit function to serve the ever-changing landscape? That was the core question we at Protiviti aspired to answer through our interviews with internal audit leaders for Volume XVI of our Internal Auditing Around the World® profile series. We sought insight into how high-performing and forward-thinking internal audit teams are innovating and transforming themselves into agile, multiskilled and technology-enabled organizations — “next-generation” functions.
When we chose that question in early 2020, we were thinking primarily about digital change in business. What we did not know then was that, within a matter of months, a force from the natural world — a new and deadly coronavirus, COVID-19 — would be the real change upending not only businesses but also entire economies, along with billions of people’s lives.
We conducted most interviews with chief audit executives (CAEs) during the last two weeks of March 2020, amid the growing wave of coronavirus lockdowns around the globe. Interestingly, we found that despite the unprecedented disruption and uncertainty, these leaders were calm, clear-minded and resolute. They embodied the spirit of braving extraordinary times with fortitude and confidence — no doubt because they had been working long before the pandemic to condition their teams to be more resilient when challenged by any major change.
We also discovered that the leaders of internal audit functions well advanced in their embrace of new technologies, tools and methodologies felt that their teams were on especially strong footing to weather the “new normal” — and whatever the next new normal would be after that. They had already disrupted themselves so they could better support the broader business in its efforts to transform digitally. While they may never have imagined disruption at the scale brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, these internal audit functions had adopted a mindset that we were already living in a time of rapid disruption with constant change as the status quo.
In Volume XV of this publication, which Protiviti published in July 2019, we noted that internal audit functions around the globe had arrived at a watershed moment. We asserted that they had a stark choice before them: to disrupt if they wanted to evolve into a next-generation internal audit function — or be disrupted. And even earlier, in a related publication released in 2018, we emphasized that “Internal auditors must adapt, evolve and transform before becoming irrelevant. They need to ready themselves for changes and new thinking — now.”
We see things somewhat differently now. While proactive and controlled disruption is always preferred, unexpected disruption can also yield positive outcomes. Experiencing both — disrupting and being disrupted — is what builds resiliency. That’s why we anticipate that many of the internal audit functions firmly on the transformation path before the upheaval of the pandemic will be those well-positioned to thrive in the long term, and the most prepared to help business leadership navigate risk and identify new opportunities in a post-COVID-19 world.
The CAEs we interviewed for this publication all emphasized they have a long way to go before they will feel they are leading a true next-generation internal audit function. But we suggest that these leaders, and their teams, are well on their way to setting the standard for the next chapter of the profession. The future auditor has, in many ways, arrived.
You can download Internal Auditing Around the World, Volume XVI from our site.