July 13, 2020

Audits as a platform for change

Leon van Heerden

Audits are not something that managers tend to relish. It is a rare occurrence that a manager of a business function leaps out of bed in the morning with joy in the knowledge that their department is being audited. In reality, it tends to mean that workloads and pressure levels skyrocket and it can feel like the entire business is under scrutiny. Audits can make people feel powerless, subjected to criticism from afar without context. 

And yet. 

Audits, when approached the right way, can be empowering. They can – and should – be embraced as an opportunity for reflection, improvement and transformation. Audits provide decision-makers with permission to enlist the help of external partners who can provide fresh ideas and encourage change to happen within an organisation that might otherwise not have happened from internal sources alone.

Audits can also help financial services firms leverage data as a driver of growth. They can be the first step on the road to developing a robust and effective data strategy.

 

Permission to change

The audit process creates opportunities for positive change. Placing the business under scrutiny focuses minds on improving the way things are done. It unlocks budget, enabling investment in strategic areas. And it can drive meaningful change in an organisation’s data capability.

This doesn’t happen by magic. It takes serious commitment and sometimes, it requires support from outsiders who can provide expertise, perspective and permission to re-examine accepted truths and implement changes. 

 

Getting on the front foot

Here at Mudano, we work with clients to deliver “Rapid Data Audit Response”, helping firms to analyse audit findings, define root causes and set out a programme of work to strengthen the business. 

We provide the tools, process and data experts to ensure that the audit process is a positive catalyst for change – not a meaningless slog that highlights problems that have persisted for years. 

The keyword here is ‘momentum.’ Managers tend to know an audit is coming and have a sense of how things will turn out. Audits create a sense of real urgency to fix problems and move on. This much-needed impetus should be harnessed, and our rapid response plan enables data heads to do precisely that. It’s a stress-tested structure – forged and refined under pressure – that enables you to respond quickly and effectively to audit findings.  

Audits can be a golden opportunity to focus minds, unlock budget and drive step changes in an organisation’s data capabilities. But identifying the opportunity is one thing. Seizing that opportunity is a different thing entirely. 

 

Help with the hard choices

Positive change doesn’t need to come at the cost of continuity. Audits don’t have to mean that ongoing change programmes grind a sudden halt. But sometimes, hard choices do need to be made, and it helps to get guidance from experienced hands who know when to stick, tweak or twist with existing initiatives.

Most firms are passengers when it comes to the audit process. They lack agency and end up in a place where they don’t want to be. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to take control and drive the process by seeing it for what it is: permission to address the challenges you’ve wanted to do something about for quite some time. It is rare that an audit will identify completely unknown issues meaning they are ideal times to fix root causes that can ultimately drive growth rather than merely papering over structural or process cracks. 

Ultimately, solving problems boils down to people. This is especially true when it comes to data strategy and ensuring the step changes identified by the audit (or pre-identified and confirmed) are put into practice in a way that fuels value for the organisation. This requires both the right stakeholders and the right data specialists to define and promote best practice and the latest thinking.

 

Putting theory into practice 

How does this work in practice?

We were called in to help a tier 1 retail bank that had received a red audit review concerning data quality on its platform. This was a mission-critical operational system, so the stakes were high.

We kicked things off by defining a plan to resolve core data quality issues on the platform, working with business and technology stakeholders to dig beneath the surface. It soon became clear that the issue wasn’t limited to a historic backlog, but an active – and increasing – proliferation of data quality issues. 

Sidebar – data quality issues are a common issue for many organisations with burgeoning data repositories and the desire to use that data efficiently and ethically to drive economic growth. Data quality issues are often interconnected and source issues are often a combination of people, process and technology that demand scrutiny and a wider lens to overcome.

In response, we built capability (including people, process and technology) to predict data quality issues through an early-warning system running over 7.6 billion checks every 30 days. In doing so, we significantly reduced the endemic data quality challenge, leveraging the impetus of the audit to build a robust long-term solution.

 

Causes, not symptoms

 

Regaining control over audits means developing a proactive change programme focused on measurable business value. Generic, rehashed solutions to problems might seem appealing, but they don’t deliver value. What an organisation needs is a solution that works for its specific needs, fixing root problems rather than managing symptoms. 

True change – the type that drives value to the bottom line – depends on going back to first principles, identifying fundamental truths and building from there. Our approach encourages you to dig below the surface of an audit report to solve your underlying problems rather than deal with the surface issues. It’s time to stop fire-fighting and get into the business of fire-prevention.

We’d love to bring the rapid response approach to life for you through more use-cases. So, if you want to change your relationship with audit, give us a call.

 

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