This is a post about my current audit reporting workflow. It’s based on working with an Apple computer. Why Apple? Simple, the software becomes ubiquitous. In the many years I used Windows, I never felt the software was not there. With Apple, I have this all the time. It saves me hours each week because the tool switches, if required, are easier and less intrusive, just because the tools are so ubiquitous.
I’m the head of internal audit for the Belgian development agency. We operate in 18 countries, most of these in Africa. We’re a small audit team, it a very motivated one. We have a significant audit universe, which we share with the external auditors. These are both CPA equivalents as well as the court of auditors.
Given the size of the audit universe, we need to be very risk focused. Even then, we search for efficiency in auditing all the time. This is why the efficiency and the effectiveness of my workflow is so important. Let me take you through it.
During the audit: nvALT
We try to keep out work papers as tool independent as possible. For any type of text this means for me using txt files. And the most effective tool for that for me is nvALT, the fork of Notational Velocity developed by Brett Terpstra.
nvALT seems a simple txt editor, but it has a lot of functionality. I use only the bare essentials of the application. Each finding and each observation are described in a structured format, which I have developed in Textexpander. I tag the notes. nvALT uses openmeta format tagging. This allows me to easily find my notes for a specific audit back again. Using nvALT really reduces the friction. Either I write during the interviews or detailed testing itself, or I document as soon as possible afterwards.
Structuring the report with Mindnode Pro
I got introduced to the concept of mind mapping a couple of years ago and it has stayed with me every since. I’m not a mind mapping ninja, but I use it whenever I feel that I need more than the traditional hierarchical structures to develop my ideas. Audit reporting is like that. It’s important to be able to communicate clearly and condensed to the reader, be that the audit committee or the auditee.
Mind mapping allows me to test a storyline which make retention and recollection for an audit committee bombarded with much information as easy as possible. The better the report is structured, the better the acceptance of the findings and the support for the recommendations will be.
In order to be able to easily restructure during the development of the reporting structure for that specific audit, I mind map and move elements around until the make sense to everyone.
Consolidating the structure with Omni Outliner
Once I’m happy with the reporting structure as developed in my mind mapping software, I lock this structure in in Omni Outliner. All tools of the Omni group are well thought out, and Omni Outliner is no exception. Again, I’m likely using about 10% of its potential, but for my purposes, it’s excellent. Moving from the mind mapping software to the outliner happens through an OPML export. This specifically structured txt file allows for easy transfers of document structures.
The outliner is then used to add several layers of structure to the different chapters. Some of these are standard, as each finding is structured in a standard manner. Some of these are specific, or may indicate additional information to get from sources to really lock in the finding.
Final reporting in Byword with nvALT
Once the structure is finalized, it export the OPML to a txt file and start writing in Byword. Byword is a distraction free writing environment with good markdown support, which I use for formatting.
I actually integrate the small text files I wrote in nvALT by copy-pasting them into Byword. I’m sure there is a more efficient way, and I’m thinking of looking into using Scrivener for this, but this is my current approach. I copy-paste the text snippets which I have open on the left side of my monitor into the Byword document open on the right side. And I redact the text as I go. Some parts are written by my collaborator and these find their way in the report as well.
Once the report is in a relatively final phase, I export through Byword to Word. I have to in a non Apple environment. This is where final editing is being done. I dream of a CSS that has the entire report format of BTC ready, and I’ll eventually get to that, but not this year.
This workflow allows me to focus on the content of the report, not on the aspects of making sure the report gets written. The tools don’t get in théâtre. They actually make it enjoyable to write.