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  • Keith Phillips - CEO

How Close Is Remote?

It looks as if lockdowns are not going away anytime soon, which means that remote audit may become the new normal, sooner than we expected.

It could even be argued that, in today's world, sending out auditors all over the country is not recommended, not only because they could be potential virus carriers, but also because - even if they are free to travel - they will be increasing carbon debt.

But the ‘touch' and 'feel’ of an onsite visit is still seen as essential.


So how can technology and technique be combined to make remote effective for the audit process?


Our view at QLBS comes from years of experience of providing remote and hybrid auditing systems for industries outside the food industry. In particular, business and tourism in Australia.

Australia strive to do as much as they can remotely; not because of lockdown, but because of the vast distances between clients.

This experience, and our early deployments in the food industry, give us assurance that it can be done. Particularly in the world we now find ourselves.


That's why we think that remote could be very close.


The World is Moving Closer Together - Digitally

With 5.15 billion unique mobile phone users in the world today, mobile devices are becoming increasingly connected as the world builds digital infrastructure as a priority.

  • COVID 19 has accelerated usage for all kinds of remote working.

  • Zoom/What’s App gatherings are the new normal.

  • The cloud is also enabling anyone, anywhere, to work collaboratively on a global desktop.

  • We are witnessing one of the biggest workplace shifts in the history of humankind.

  • And a new language of digital imaging is emerging as digital video cameras become ubiquitous.

Data feeds from the 'Internet of Things' (IoT) and 'cloud farm' management systems is also bringing data to the auditor that provides insights and verification that was not previously available.


Auditors can get closer to the truth, not by staring at the crops, but by analysing the images and the data.

Digital networks are collapsing distances and accelerating understanding.

And all of this costs less.



A Remote Audit Model for Food

  1. Producers register online and begin with an entry-level, self-audit using their smartphones, tablets or PC’s. This would include evidence supplied by file uploads or from digital cameras.

  2. Online auditors with specialist expertise review the self-audit, ask further questions, and seek further evidence to verify specific aspects.

  3. The online auditor would also examine data-feeds from farm management systems providing insights such as yields, geospatial variances, and inputs from all the operating devices via IoT (Internet of Things) technologies.

  4. The online auditor can ask the producer to take them on a tour of the facilities and ask to interview key personnel using tools such as Zoom and What’s App. The auditor requests image capture and file up-loads as they proceed.

  5. The auditor and the auditee can work collaboratively on the assessment 'in the cloud'. The auditee would have a restricted view enabling them to input directly and make their own comments and commitments to corrective action.

  6. Independent reviewers can also be invited to view the online audit and provide their own input in real-time, in a conference call, or in their own time.

  7. After all inputs, an automated report is produced that can be viewed by all parties online and agreed. Visibility of corrective actions and responsibilities will further enhance confidence of conformance.

  8. It is also possible to automate date stamped email reminders ensuring continuous improvement.

  9. After the review, a decision would be taken as to the requirement for onsite verification. Available personnel can be targeted at producers of greatest risk, and the onsite focus could be used to identify areas needing special attention.



Remote Audit has Disadvantages:

Some people say that the only way you can be assured of compliance is by an onsite visit.

They say that... experienced auditors can get a sense of the producer with the benefits of touch, sight and smell. And that they can find what has been 'swept under the carpet' or 'papered over'.


But the converse may be true.


An onsite visit has to be scheduled, which provides time for the producer to 'dress-up' the farm, and influence the behaviour of their staff in readiness for the event, with normality returning the next day.



Remote has Terrific Advantages:

Reduced Cost

Travel time and expense can be the biggest cost component of an audit.

These are dead dollars that produce no value. The travel expense can be eliminated and the time savings can be used to analyse the inputs.


Work Anytime

Farmers can self-evaluate and collect the evidence when it suits them. They can fit it between vital activities on the farm, perhaps do it at night or weekends when the auditor would not normally be available.

Online auditors can refer to the farmers input at anytime. They are not limited to working only when the farmer is free.


Improve Team Participation

Other people can participate in the review as the audit is available online to anyone who is given access. The farmer may involve colleagues - the auditor may involve specialists.


Enhanced Onsite Visits

If and when the farmer and the auditor do have on-site discussions, they would both have a well organised 'body of knowledge' to have more meaningful discussions.


Lower Barriers of Entry

The cost of including all famers in a grower group can be negligible, and valuable; when farmers understand the benefits of a robust self-assessment.




Applying our Experience to Create Solutions

Knowing when and how to deploy 'remote' requires some reflection and experience.

It's about converting your customers and redirecting your company culture.

Some people are still challenged by the digital age and need support, and others prefer to stick to old, established practices.


Here are some valuable steps to guide you:

  1. Get started: Do trials and a pilot. Get your hands 'digitally dirty'. It is only by 'doing' that your organisation will gain the undeDRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:f7471 The auditor requests image capture and file up-loads as they proceed.DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:f7471

  2. Identify your digitally savvy clients and members of your team. Work with them first.

  3. Train and educate your team so that they are confident in digital. Build confidence slowly and manage the change.

  4. Use the simple tools that people are already using. Don’t leap into complex tools such as blockchain and augmented reality, they will distract from getting the basics right and leveraging what is already in use.

  5. Use mobile, image capture and cloud whenever you can to enrich visibility and get the interconnected data channels in place.

  6. Use the tools - when training auditors and inspectors, for pre-assessment across your community of suppliers and to conduct pilots.



In Conclusion:

Reading the data and looking at the images may get you closer to the truth than an onsite visit, assuming that your auditor has the right knowledge systems and training. Going remote is really about combining the use of digital tools with smart technology and using online connectivity.


Having conducted remote audits with rigour, onsite visits can be targeted, shorter, and become more valuable when you are able to do them.

You may not find that remote audit provides as deep an interrogation of a single entity but it will enable a broader and deeper understanding of the whole community when time, budget and travel restrictions constrain your activity.

Are you interested in discussing remote opportunities in more detail?

Email me, Keith.Phillips@qlbs.com. Let's talk.


info@qlbs.com.

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