Auditing is integral to a quality management system (QMS). While a QMS defines a company’s commitment to quality, auditing ensures that this commitment is met and maintained.

“Auditing keeps everyone honest. Your QMS is the gospel truth of your work, and audits evaluate your adherence to this truth,” says Timothy McClung, a self-employed test systems architect.

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Artificial Intelligence Meets Auditing

Deb IafrateArtificial Intelligence (AI) has far-reaching effects, including in auditing. Auditor Tim McClung describes the state of auditing today and where it’s heading in the future. Hint: AI will be part of the process.

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An audit ensures that what a company says it’s doing aligns with what it’s actually doing. While the QMS outlines what needs to be done, audits ensure these guidelines are being followed, driving continual improvement.

“Effective auditing observes real-time performance. By assessing both past and current performance, audits ensure that the organization meets its goals,” says Andrae D. Maze, ISO sector manager, quality assessments, Smithers.

Audits, especially the internal ones, are like health check-ups for a business. They ensure that a company is on track with its quality objectives and help to reveal areas that might need upgrading. As processes and customer needs change, regular audits ensure that the QMS remains adaptable and effective.

What exactly is an audit?

An audit is essentially a health check for your business processes. Picture a doctor’s visit, but for your company.

“There are three main parts to an audit: The people involved, the rule book, and what you’re checking,” says McClung.

An audit consists of:

  • The people involved: This refers to both the auditor (the one conducting the check) and the audited (the one being checked).
  • The rule book: This is the set of standards or benchmarks against which the company’s processes are evaluated.
  • What you’re checking: This is the specific area or process being examined. It could be anything from financial accounts to production quality.

Types of audits

Each type of audit serves a unique purpose and provides different insights into a business’s operations.

At its core, an internal audit is a self-assessment.

“This is when someone from your own company checks how things are going,” McClung says.

Internal audits are “like a practice test [where] you spot problems and fix them before anyone else sees them,” says Scott Carey, ISO Certification Manager, HSB Registration Services.

By conducting these audits, businesses can preemptively address any potential issues, ensuring smoother operations and enhanced productivity.

Supplier audits are when leaders evaluate vendors, or “When you check if the people you buy stuff from (like materials for your products) are doing their job right,” says Timothy Cruickshank, lead auditor and consultant at Quality Audit Solutions.

The effectiveness of your suppliers directly affects your business. Conducting external audits is like “picking the best teammate,” says Carey. “You want to be sure they won’t let you down.”

By ensuring your suppliers adhere to quality standards, leaders not only safeguard product quality but also enhance their brand’s reputation.

Third-party audits provide a neutral assessment of your company. Achieving certification or a positive review can significantly boost your company’s image, making it easier to gain customer trust and business partnerships. In this scenario, “Another company comes in and gives you a grade,” says. “If you do well, you get a certificate that shows everyone you’re doing great.”

Tips for effective audit preparation

Whether you’re gearing up for an internal review or a third-party evaluation, preparation is crucial. To do well, experts advise the following:

  • Document everything: “If you didn’t write it down, it never happened,” McClung says. In other words: No matter how good your processes are, if they aren’t well-documented, they might as well not exist (from an audit perspective).
  • Maintain a good team: It’s crucial to have a dedicated team prepared for the audit. “Assign capable individuals,” Cruickshank says. “Ensure they are trained and can handle the stress of an audit.”
  • Make it instinctive: Your processes and documents should be easy to follow. “Make the documents intuitive so that anyone can follow the logic, reducing training needs and ensure compliance,” Carey advises.

Audits are key to ensuring quality, compliance, and continuous improvement. By understanding them and preparing effectively, leaders can turn them into valuable tools for growth.