There are few industries that haven’t been gripped by the hype around emerging technologies. Within audit, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are already driving radical transformation in the profession. And like many organisations, EY is investing in developing tools such as bots, drones and AI applications that put emerging technology into practice.
But it is about more than just building technology; it’s about moving the process forward. And it’s about how auditors can utilise the best of what technology can offer to drive quality and deliver on its mandate to provide trust and confidence to the capital markets.
At EY, the big challenge is cutting through the hype to understand the real impact this emerging technology can have for our clients and the capital markets, now and in the future. Technology for technology’s sake is not going to improve the quality and value of an audit.
Technology built in a way that is scalable and can drive real change for our clients and ultimately enhances audit quality is what drives our development. That’s why our focus is on identifying how the application of technology is deployed to support our 80,000 auditors. By assisting them in faster data handling with automation techniques, it allows them to focus their efforts on providing professional scepticism and judgement in order to drive quality and create value for all of our clients around the world.
For clients with a large number of bank accounts, for example, we developed a cash confirmation bot that reduced the testing duration from one week to just one hour. This allows us to meet tighter reporting deadlines and identify potential audit issues earlier.
Central to making this happen is our global technology platform, EY Canvas; the hub through which we drive consistent change across our entire global audit practice. Now in its fourth audit cycle, EY Canvas has enabled us to digitise 99.9% of our audits and connect all of our auditors on one integrated system.
It also allows us to connect seamlessly with our clients through the EY Canvas Client Portal and streamline how data required for the audit flows between our client and our teams of auditors. Having a globally scaled platform allows us to drive rapid implementation of technologies such as analytics, automation and accounting research capabilities across the organisation.
For our audit teams the visibility that EY Canvas provides them during the audit helps them to bring a more centralised command-and-control approach, especially for our large multinational clients. For example, for clients with shared service environments, the EY Canvas hub facilitates the visibility of auditing transactions at the centralised locations as well as seamlessly sharing the work across multiple jurisdictions where applicable. Having a centralised, integrated view of progress in local territories also alleviates one of the biggest pain points that face global clients – the project management of multiple audits in offices around the world.
By combining this global view with advanced data analytics we provide a higher level of insight to clients. Analytics enable us to delve deeper into their entire data population – rather than relying on sampling – to pinpoint trends and anomalies earlier and more effectively than ever before.
Our industry-leading Hadoop-based platform has the ability to perform audit analytics at speed using very large datasets. Working with our clients, we extract data throughout the year, allowing us to identify potential audit issues earlier and reduce the risk of unforeseen surprises at year end. This integration of analytics has fundamentally changed our clients’ audit experiences by improving audit quality and providing new insight into the data captured.
But EY Canvas is only part of our digital story. Innovation has to become part of the culture of the organisation to be truly effective. So for us, every person is an advocate for innovation. They are involved in thinking about what tools need to be created and how they can be applied at scale to improve audit quality.
Building our digital approach from the frontline out means that the ideas generated are focused on responding to client needs and issues. It is about purposefully looking at ways technology can improve existing processes by better enabling audit teams to spend more time on the areas of judgement and focusing on the value-add – those actionable insights we take back to the client.
Take the example of our cross-functional teams in Dublin, Ireland, that developed an approach to transform how we carry out mutual fund audits to greatly improve the process for the client. Rather than the fund administrator receiving 250 separate emails from our audit teams asking for the information, now the data is automatically fed through our EY Canvas platform and the process can be completed in a fraction of the time. The process was initially developed in the local market before being modified and scaled by our Global Innovation team in Silicon Valley and is now being rolled out worldwide.
One of the key pieces of the puzzle is our collaboration with clients to help them fully understand how emerging technologies can be integrated to align with their own digital evolution. We know we cannot transform the end-to-end process of the audit in isolation to the changes that are happening more widely within the finance function. So we are taking many of our clients through an innovation workshop to demonstrate how our ongoing investments in technology and digital innovation transform our clients’ audits.
By sharing what we are doing and learning about the tools and technologies our clients have in the pipeline, these discussions provide insights for both parties concerning where to focus future development efforts.
For us, innovation is not about the hype surrounding individual technologies, such as analytics, RPA or AI. We understand that developing a single application using robotics or AI is one step in an ongoing process. What is revolutionary is delivering these at scale in a way that drives real business improvements for clients, while supporting our auditors’ human judgement and enabling them to deliver even greater value.
That can only be achieved through strategic investment in the right technology and a cultural shift across the whole organisation in which the trust and confidence model always sits at the centre.
Hermann Sidhu is an EY assurance partner
The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms.