February 2021

What Does the Future Hold for Remote Audits?

To say that 2020 was a challenging year for organizations would be a monumental understatement.
Woman on headset smiling at laptop

Many companies have had to make very tough decisions, and learn to do more with fewer resources. Unfortunately, there will continue to be some lingering uncertainty in 2021 until the pandemic can safely be declared over, or at least contained.

To help ease any uncertainty about the future of certification, this article provides some insight into our expectations about the future of remote auditing.

What Is Remote Auditing?

Remote auditing techniques are also known as information and communication technology (ICT) for auditing or assessment purposes. ICT and other similar practices have been around for quite some time; however, these practices have not been widely used as the justification and approval process could be cumbersome. With the onset of the global pandemic, the certification industry needed to adapt quickly to develop a practical approach to approving and performing remote audits (where possible) to ensure the continuity of organizations’ certifications during this difficult time.

NSF-ISR was swift in creating a robust system for reviews, approvals and remote audits by our established auditors to help our clients retain their certifications even when in-person audits were no longer possible.

Remote audits vary according to industry and oversight body rules. For example, the International Automotive Task Force (IATF) has allowed remote audits since October 2020. Previously, IATF established “monitoring events” to check on key features of automotive suppliers’ management systems. Monitoring events are still allowed in some cases, but whenever possible the IATF has shifted its preference to on-site or remote audits. Monitoring events are no longer allowed as of January 1, 2021 and the IATF has shifted its preference to on-site or remote audits.

The International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG) has adapted to remote auditing by maintaining its own set of rules and requirements in addition to those set forth by the accreditation bodies. Other industries like food and forestry have established additional restrictions or parameters around remote auditing practices. Additionally, some standards may have differing requirements and it is important to note these requirements will take precedence.

What’s Next Now That Many Companies Have Had Their 2020 Audit?

The circumstances of 2020 created a perfect case study for the certification industry providing merit that remote audits and the use of ICT can be effective in determining the conformance of an organization’s management systems to standards. On-site audits are still the preferred approach, but as a part of an organization focused on public health and safety, we place a priority on client and auditor health and safety. Although no one can predict what will happen with the pandemic with absolute accuracy, it is safe to bet that remote audits will remain a staple for the foreseeable future.

Are On-Site Audits Gone Forever?

The NSF-ISR team continues to refine our processes and improve the effectiveness of the remote auditing approval process. As the traditional on-site audit is expected to return when circumstances allow, we will still require a risk analysis to determine how an audit should be conducted.

Where possible, we will conduct on-site audits, provided the client organization and auditor(s) are comfortable with it and the local regulations allow it. Every other situation will require a well-planned, thorough remote audit to take place to grant or continue certification.

What If Neither an On-Site Nor a Remote Audit Is Possible?

If it is not possible to conduct an on-site audit or a remote audit, these cases will be handled very carefully to ensure that NSF-ISR continues to keep the organization certified, to the extent that the governing rules allow. Some organizations seeking recertification have already been granted extensions to their certification, up to six months from the current expiration date. This type of extension can only be approved after a remote “special audit” has been conducted to provide confidence that the certified management system continues to be effective and fulfill requirements.

ANAB (ANSI National Accreditation Board) recently announced it would allow for an additional six-month extension for organizations needing this approach because a full remote recertification is not possible. This second extension will require a second risk analysis and approval, with a maximum extension of 12 months from the original expiration date of the current certification’s three-year cycle.

For organizations in surveillance mode where the use of remote auditing techniques is not possible, NSF-ISR can now offer some relief. 2020 surveillance audits that cannot be accomplished using ICT may be deferred but must be completed by June 30, 2021. The NSF-ISR team needs to consider the timing and risk associated with postponing 2020 audits and consider the entire three-year certification cycle, as the postponed 2020 audit does not replace the need for the 2021 surveillance audit. Our team will work with companies to develop the best solution.

Finally, in all cases where audits are to be postponed or certifications are to be extended according to the rules, NSF-ISR will work with organizations to use those options as a last resort. We are committed to trying to find ways to conduct audits that will have the least interruption to certification and the greatest benefit to your organization.