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Mind of Jacka: This Was Written by a Human

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Nov 01, 2023

Thanks to Bryant Richards I’ve been doing a lot of reading/research/work/looking-things-up/pondering/ general-satisfaction-of-inquisitiveness on the impact of automation on internal auditors’ employability. (This may even result in an article…  and a presentation…and maybe other things. We’ll see.) It is a broad topic, well beyond the scope of anything I can do here. However, as I pondered weak and weary (might I say, nearly napping) my mind wondered to an old idea which, way back in the olden times, we discussed in our internal audit department and quickly discarded. It may be time to resurrect the quickly rejected.

As I mentioned, I won’t go into all the details related to internal auditor employability right now, but one approach is to have a skill in a field so “niche” that it isn’t worth computerizing. Hold that in one part of your mind as we discuss point number two.

What is the one area/skill/ability/process within internal audit with which we struggle the most? My experience has shown it to be writing audit reports. In fact, when giving presentations, I often ask if any attendees have solved the report writing problem and, if anyone has, to come up to me afterward and we’ll make a fortune on the internal audit circuit. (“A fortune on the internal audit circuit.” Maybe one of my best jokes ever. I keep telling my wife I’m funny.)

Well, what about automating the report writing process? We know there is some progress in computers writing audit reports. But those result in sterile, bland, incomplete examples of the craft. Yes, you will get the basic words and format, pulling excerpts from existing workpapers and filling in some blanks. But computers will never be able to create the nuance necessary to get those reports past the humans who have to read them, accept them, and approve them. I will be so bold as to predict that computers will never be able to write a finished audit report.

And there is that niche I spoke of earlier, and the idea we quickly discarded. What if one person was tasked with writing all audit reports issued by the department? This is a perfect role for the internal auditor who understands internal audit, has the skills needed to write a report, and practices the emotional intelligence required to ensure all parties accept that report. The individual could take all the information — the input of the internal auditors who have done the work, the workpapers that document what has been included, the initial attempts by the computer — and use their unique, un-automatable skills to put together the final report.

Such a person would have to know how internal audit work is accomplished, understand the internal audit processes within the department, have a deep understanding of what internal audit leadership requires in reports, and know the clients and the way reports would need to be tailored to meet their desired deliverables. And that last point means the report writing specialist would also need to work directly with clients, building their own relationships.

I know this is not necessarily a new idea. As mentioned, I discussed it with a number of people a number of years ago. However, I’ve only heard it talked about, never put in practice. (And if you have done so, please let us know about it.) And most of that talk is about why it won’t work. But, in a changing world, we often have to come back to things we didn’t believe could work, because now we have new tools. And we have new needs — the need to remain employed and valuable.

And speaking of why it won’t work, I already see an ineffective-opinion’s-worth of issues with this approach, including things like the individual’s career path, succession planning, the loss of writing skills by the rest of the internal audit department, and slowing down the process. (I once spoke with a group that, in an attempt to speed up the editing process, hired an English major who would review every report. Apparently, that slowed the process by another couple of weeks.)

So, yeah, lots of issues. But I think those issues, in the right situations, can be overcome. Reporting would be better. The department’s reputation would be improved. A specialist would be available to help train in all areas of writing. And someone with a very specialized skill could ensure they have a job well into the future.

There are a lot of twists and turns that will be coming up as automation impacts how we do things in internal audit. But by looking forward, we might come up with solutions we need right now. Like getting out timely audit reports that people actually read and act on.

(Addendum: For a while, my position required a lot of reviews of finished reports — ones where I was not involved until a close-to-finished draft was submitted. The reports were often… oh, I’ll be kind… not good. The ugly thing I learned? The problem wasn’t specifically that the auditors did not know how to write. The biggest issue was that they did not know how to audit. So, the report was unsalvageable not because of the writing, but because the work was not done correctly. That would be an interesting thing to consider if anyone were to use a report writing specialist: Perhaps their role could include identifying poor audit work and what to do about it. But I promised I was done. So, no more addendums.)

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Mike Jacka is co-founder and chief creative pilot of Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.