External and internal audits generate better insight into your data security, yet most employees flee from the process. Audits are cumbersome, time-consuming, and often feel peripheral to most people’s daily workload.

Yet there are several benefits of internal auditing that make it a critical component to the long-term sustainability of your organization.

While it won’t make an internal audit for compliance management more fun, an effective workflow can streamline the audit process and create a rapid turnaround that saves you money and employee time. That’s what we’ll share with you today.

Let’s begin with an overview of the internal audit process.

Overview: Internal audit processes

What are the 4 phases of an audit?

There are four phases of the internal audit are:

  1. Preparation
  2. Performance
  3. Reporting
  4. Follow Up

These phases can be broken down into a series of smaller steps, which we’ll cover in the next section.

What is the audit process step by step?

The internal audit process consists of the four phases of an audit program, broken down into several stages. Each stage requires communication among all the relevant parties, including the auditor, senior management, IT department, and other relevant stakeholders.

Step 1: Planning

Creating an audit plan requires the internal auditor to set the scope and objectives, then establish an initial time frame. Additionally, the planning phase can include scheduling an initial meeting with your audit team or requesting documentation.

Step 2: Document Review

Next, your internal auditor will review policies, procedures, and established controls. The goal of document review is to assure that your written plans align with standards and regulations.

For example, if you need to be HIPAA compliant, you need to have role-based access rights as a security measure. If you haven’t established these as part of the written program, it isn’t compliant.

Step 3: Field Work

During this stage, the auditor comes to your place of business to see if your actions align with your written policies and procedures.

To follow the access rights example: your organization needs to follow your written policies. If an employee changes roles within your organization, you need to be adjusting the access rights appropriately.

Fieldwork also incorporates meeting with staff and engaging with the day-to-day business activities to assure appropriate compliance with standards, regulations, and organizational documents.

Step 4: Follow-Up

Your auditor will often find missing documentation or have follow-up questions before finishing a report. For example, if he or she were missing an access rights review report, the auditor would request it at this time.

If the auditor didn’t understand an employee’s answer when comparing it to the internal procedures, he or she might also request clarification. Most auditors will clear up confusion before submitting findings.

Step 5: Reporting

This is the stage most people dread. Once your auditor reviews all the information presented and completes the testing, the auditor will issue a draft report. The draft report incorporates audit results.

This will include their independent evaluation of your program’s strength, a detailed listing of weaknesses, and recommendations for a corrective action plan.

The internal auditor will send you the draft report, allow you to review it, and give management time to respond to any findings. At this point, you might send additional documentation to remove findings before the auditor issues the final report. After all that back-and-forth happens, the auditor issues the final report.

Step 6: Issue Tracking

If your audit report issued findings, you need to track those audit findings, implement the proper internal controls to mitigate the issue, and prove you took corrective action with a written response.

For example, if you missed an access rights review, you need to show that you have an action plan in place to assure timely and accurate reviews. You will also need to pay close attention to any issues found in previous audits to assure corrective action is still in place for them.

Seems simple enough, right? So why do organizations struggle with making audits a priority?

There are several reasons. Chief among them include an audit’s time-consuming nature, which makes it a drain on resources. Let’s explore that, as well as some ways to overcome this challenge.

What makes the audit process time-consuming?

Whether you’re working with your internal auditors or an external audit committee, documentation and communication drive the audit process. Before the audit begins, your auditor requests documentation.

During the audit, your auditor needs to communicate with your staff. After the audit, your auditor needs a follow-up meeting with senior management to provide the audit report and discuss findings.

Scheduling meetings, finding responsible parties, and tracking documentation all take more time than you realize. If people have scheduling conflicts, then meetings get postponed. If responsible parties don’t respond to audit requests, the audit can’t begin.

Why does streamlining the audit process matter?

One word: money.

Whether you’re engaging an outside firm or using internal staff, you’re paying for the audit.

An external audit firm bills hourly. Therefore, time spent tracking down your employees costs you money. Moreover, the longer it takes employees to respond to requests, the more time your auditor needs to spend reviewing the reason for the request. Again, they’re going to bill you, increasing the overall audit cost.

If you have an internal audit department, communication lags still cost you money. Your internal audit department does more than mark checkboxes on lists. They also continually review the legal and compliance landscape for updates. If your audit department isn’t completing audits efficiently, then it can’t do all the work it needs to do. This drives up the cost of the audit itself.

Moreover, some regulatory requirements specify a period during which you must complete an audit. If your audit takes longer than expected, you may be noncompliant with the timing.

How creating an audit workflow eases communications

Creating audit workflows can enhance communications and shorten the audit’s length. Workflows allow you to assign roles and monitor progress through each stage of the audit process.

Once everyone involved has an assigned role, you can more easily communicate with one another to obtain documentation and keep the audit on track.

How automating audit workflows streamlines the process

Increasingly, organizations are using workflow automation tools to streamline communications and task management. The most time-consuming part of the audit process is connecting with your team and managing documentation sharing.

With a workflow management tool, you can delegate work to the responsible parties and track their progress. A powerful compliance dashboard will give you visibility into the work completed and what remains outstanding.

Emails often get lost in overflowing inboxes. Calendar alerts can be ignored. If a team member misses a deadline, you have to remember to send emails reminding that person. Automating these tasks with a workflow tool saves time by organizing the tracking for you.

How ZenGRC Enables Audit Workflows

The risk assessment process, including internal auditing, can put a huge strain on your organization.

It requires both a time and monetary investment to assure a robust risk management program. While this can’t be avoided, the strain it puts on your organization can be eased with the right tools.

ZenGRC offers workflow tagging so that you can delegate your audit project tasks and monitor their progress and completion. Moreover, it allows you to prioritize tasks so that your key personnel know how to plan their audit work in the most efficient way possible.

ZenGRC’s workflow management capabilities include a centralized dashboard that continuously documents your control effectiveness making audit documentation and continuous monitoring easier.

Additionally, it helps you create an audit trail by documenting and remediation activities to support your responses to external auditor questions.

Furthermore, ZenGRC makes simple work of all your compliance auditing needs by centralizing all of your requirements. This helps to eliminate duplicate tasks by mapping controls to multiple frameworks and providing templates for a variety of different types of audits to help you work as efficiently as possible.

For more information on how ZenGRC’s audit management workflows can streamline your process, contact us for a demo.