Recently, I was reading some research involving the increased use of artificial intelligence and the potential impacts that this type of technology is likely to have on businesses, not only currently but well into the future.  One study found that artificial intelligence can spot acute kidney injury even before the person experiences any symptoms.  The article went on to explain the level of analysis conducted on over 600 000 data points, including blood tests, heart rate, and blood pressure, to calculate the likelihood that an individual would develop acute kidney injury.  In nine out of ten cases, artificial intelligence had accurately detected serious cases.  I daresay people confronted with this life-threatening condition would be heartened by this research, particularly if relevant early interventions can then be put in place to prevent long term problems for the individual.

Another article I read in the July-August 2019 edition of the Harvard Business Review states that artificial intelligence is guiding decisions on anything from crop dusting to bank loans, and predictions are firmly in place for totally automated customer services across a range of sectors in the not-too-distant future.
The reality though is that artificial intelligence is already operating in our lives today.  We have ready access to mobile phones, we can share documents virtually instantly from wherever we are located to other places in the world and we can download information at the touch of a button.  This technology has seen great strides forward in the ways we do our work.  Surveys have been conducted across the world to look at the impact of technology on workplace stress and, unsurprisingly, 70% workers in one survey stated they want more technology, not less, particularly in areas such as replacing manual and laborious tasks, with 55% of workers wanting their employers to use more automation technology such as artificial intelligence.  Many workers have asked for better technology to help them to work more effectively.

When artificial intelligence is broadly integrated into daily work operations, employees are using the algorithms’ recommendations to supplement their own decisions.  And, of course, we are seeing the impact of artificial intelligence in communications we receive from online interactions.  For example, I regularly purchase e-books from one supplier and I have been watching with a good deal of interest how the site is progressively working out which books would be a good match for me.  The site says it is up to 95% in its matching efforts – interesting – until I decide to randomly buy a completely different type of book just to see what the algorithm makes of that! You just have to consider how quickly a search on your mobile phone – or even a photo you have taken – results in a Facebook feed, in some cases within about 10 minutes.  This is what is happening now, even when it is not explicit or particularly in our conscious awareness.

Considering the future for auditing, Forbes research for 2020 and 2025 indicate auditors will need to become savvier with the role and use of technology by 2020 and beyond.  While audits generally involve the review of documentation and interviews with a wide range of people, I wonder when (not if!) we will get to the time where artificial intelligence takes over the general review of policies and procedures – again using hundreds of thousands, if not millions of data points to obtain a clear insight into what these documents should have in place.  If this role is taken away from the auditor, then perhaps more defined attention can be placed on the use of ‘soft skills’ and improved communication techniques, something that only a human being can do (at this time!).  As the studies by Forbes note, CEOs are actively seeking more insights into strengthening their operations and want more visible added value from an audit which can be obtained from auditors who bring specific knowledge and tools addressing governance and business management practices.  And this is where auditors will need to ‘step up’ and go beyond the standard compliance ‘tick box’ approach.

Auditor proficiency not only with data analysis but more specifically in the use of critical thinking and judgment, along with the ability to constructively challenge management practices and work across various domains will become increasingly more important for forthcoming audits.  It is certainly possible that these practices could be quite effectively supplemented by artificial intelligence and ideally provide the client with a strong and productive outcome.  But only time will tell!

Thinking ahead:
1.    What do you believe you will need from auditors beyond 2020?
2.    What role is artificial intelligence having on your business and your sector now?
3.    Do you think you are prepared for the use of artificial intelligence over the next few years?
4.    How will you source the types of auditors that will add more value to your business, particularly as artificial intelligence gains more traction in the business world?