Wayne Terry, Chief Executive of ABCB, explores the lessons learned from remote auditing during the lockdown and looks at the growing evidence of support for a blended approach to auditing in what he believes will inevitably be the new normal for CABs (Conformity Assessment Bodies) as we begin to get back to on track and out of the COVID 19 pandemic.

 

During the pandemic, necessity required the significant adoption of remote auditing in most countries around the world. Indeed, we witnessed a swift and dramatic shift in the way audits were carried out to maintain accreditation and certification keeping supply chains open and shelves stocked. 

Although ABCB members primarily focus on Management Systems, I believe the rapid change and numerous innovations in remote auditing techniques, tools and methodologies used during the pandemic can be attuned to all forms of attestation, albeit maybe to a lesser degree dependent on individual situations. 

The experience gained by the certification and accreditation community has led to fantastic advances, which we must use going forward whilst continuing to maintain the integrity of accreditation. This seismic shift in operational methodology should also help CABs to work towards reducing their carbon footprint by significantly reducing the need for both national and international travel, including that of accreditation bodies.

So, post lockdown, what will the future of audits and assessments look like? How will these learnings and benefits be utilised to improve their effectiveness and enhance the benefits of ISO standards to end-users? 

With this question in mind, ABCB recently began discussions with UKAS to explore the move back to “normality” as lockdown restrictions lift. In particular, how the approach to remote auditing and the guidance around it will change to retain the benefits gained, whilst at the same time maintaining the value and the integrity of accredited certification.

There is no doubt this important topic is facing all Accreditation Bodies and CABs around the world. So with this in mind, a joint task force was initiated by the UKAS Management System Certification Technical Advisory Committee involving other CB representative bodies and key stakeholders to develop an agreed blended approach to what will become the new normal.

Naturally, the approach needs to ensure that the integrity of the audit process is maintained and in line with current frameworks and mandatory documents. Although previous restrictions on remote audits have currently been relaxed, there will need to be a review and to facilitate the adoption of a more risk-based approach that takes into account the way individual clients deploy and maintain their systems and industry-specific factors.

The task force has completed its work and UKAS have now published TPS 74 UKAS guidance on the use of a blended approach to auditing of management systems by certification bodies [https://www.ukas.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/TPS-74-Guidance-on-a-blended-approach-to-auditing-of-MS.pdf]. Although TPS 74 focuses on Management Systems Certification, the rest of the certification industry must be agile and work with accreditors to produce similar documents that can be adopted to achieve comparable outcomes. 

Support for a New Approach 

The use of remote techniques is supported by a recent joint IAF/ILAC/ISO survey [https://iaf.nu/en/news/use-of-remote-techniques-supported-by-iaf-ilac-iso-survey/] of more than 4000 participants, which showed a highly positive view of remote techniques.

Respondents saw many benefits to use of remote activities during pandemic conditions including:

  • Maintenance of status of recognition/accreditation/certification – 98% felt remote activities were beneficial or somewhat beneficial
  • Reduced travel time and costs: 96%
  • Reduced travel risk: 95%
  • Reduced environmental footprint: 95%
  • Efficient use of personnel being audited/assessed/evaluated: 87%
  • Opportunity for witness activities in one or more sites/facilities: 82.5%
  • Keeping to strict time/schedule of the audit/assessment/evaluation plan: 82%

In terms of the future:

  • 79% said that they would like to see blended (remote and on-site) or remote procedures used
  • 80% agreed that remote procedures give the same confidence as on-site audits
  • 91.5% felt that a substantial increase in remote techniques will stimulate the use of new processes
  • 97.5% agreed to some extent that new technologies and alternative techniques should be used.

What is of significant interest to the joint survey is that Users were largest group of respondents at 40%.

What’s Next

The publication of TPS 74 and the above survey are just two of the various activities happening in this space. By way of example, one other is a new task force set up by IAF to bring in and review global evidence of remote techniques to look at the possibility of setting a consensus approach to the future of auditing. 

It’s up to CABs and CAB associations to collaborate with accreditors to achieve better outcomes for the entire quality infrastructure and end-users.

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