A couple of days taking a car instead of public transportation really eats into my opportunity for writing. Apple launching its iOS 7 did not help either, as I spent all of the past two nights installing and playing with it. That said, I did take the time last night and on the train yesterday to write about the repositories I use.
Most workflows use repositories. My workflow is not the most complex of all workflows, so my repository set-up is rather simple. As the head of a small internal audit department, I manage both projects – audits – and processes – anything supporting our ability to execute an audit. And I want the information as much as possible in a digital format, available to me from wherever I am in the world.
When I took over the role as head of internal audit, we made a radical break from the paper based repositories my predecessor had established. We started to work with a number of components which we have now brought down to just three very simple elements. Again, simplicity is key here.
Most of you will know these tools, but perhaps not the way in which we use them. The tools are, in order of use:
- Dropbox – repository for project documentation for ongoing projects
- Basecamp – shared repository for workpapers and process related documents
- Evernote – repository for reference files and back-up for archives
Let me explain in a bit more detail how we use each of these tools.
Dropbox – ongoing project documentation
I’m not a tagger. I’ve purchased “Tags” on OSX and I fully intended to use it, but I never got around to it. After about a year I had to confess I am a very old school guy who uses traditional nested folder structures, pretty much like a paper filing system. I have a “Projects” folder in my Dropbox which contains folders for each of the ongoing audits. Audits are treated as projects. Each folder is set-up according to the same basic structure and contains a number of templates for key documents which I need in every audit.
What I actually do is copying a project template folder and renaming it. It is both efficient and ensures completeness of all relevant documentation – although of course I still have to make sure I fill out all documents. I looked at Brett Terpstra’s “Planter” solution and the idea of setting up a structure that automatically translates to an established folder structure really appeals. Certainly to be further examined. Like all of Mr. Terpstra’s tools, it looks awesome and I certainly need to invest more time in exploring the possibilities of that specific solution.
I use my Dropbox folder mainly because it allows me to synchronize between multiple devices. While I could theoretically share it with collaborators, I don’t, for the simple reason we use other tools for that, most notably Dropbox.
In principle, we could replace Dropbox with Google Drive in an instant. It really is an individual choice aimed at providing maximum ease in working on ongoing projects from wherever I am.
Basecamp – Workpapers and process related documents
I have a small team. Two people, including myself, are the core auditors of our organization. We strengthen our audit team occasionally with internal or external subject matter experts, depending on the audit scope. I’ve written about that in this article. Basecamp allows us to collaborate in the most effective way possible. From an audit project point of view, Basecamp serves two purposes:
- Non real-time collaboration
- Workpaper repository
We work with Basecamp mainly because of its simplicity. I date from a time where audits were manually documented on yellow 14-columns. Workpapers may have treated complex issues, but they were written to be as clear as possible. However, when I look at audit support tools nowadays, they distract from the actual practice of auditing. Staff spend more time documenting than analyzing the issues or interacting the auditees. I’ve never discovered any issues while documenting. Documentation exists to clearly trace findings to their origins. They should therefore be as simple as possible. Basecamp allows for exactly that.
If there is one gripe I have with Basecamp, it is the fact it does not allow us to sort/present inputs – files, text documents, discussions … – in alphabetical order. While current search capabilities in Basecamp really negate the need for any type of workpaper structure, I still like the idea of having some structure present in my workpapers that I can show. It would also allow me to do a quick scan on completeness. Of course, it would make the tool more complicated.
We keep our Basecamp projects active until after the presentation of the final report to the audit committee. We then clean up the workpapers, ensuring only relevant supporting documentation remains. After that, I export my workpapers to Evernote and finally I archive the project.
In addition, all process related documents are kept in separate projects which I ensure are kept up to date at all time. This again allows for easy retrieval of the relevant information, such as personnel reviews, budgets etc.
Evernote – Archiving and reference filing
Evernote is where I currently keep both the second archives of audits and reference files. First archives are Evernote exports to our own servers, of course, but as an auditor, it pays to be careful and have an additional back-up, just in case. Archives are Evernote notebooks that contain all documents present in the final, frozen archived project in Basecamp. As I said, this is purely an additional security back-up, albeit it a searchable one. Evernote’s OCR ensures I have quick access to the information contained in those files.
Evernote also has another purpose as my reference repository. Any piece of information I find that I may possibly need gets sent to Evernote. As such, it is slowly growing into a repository of all my largely irrelevant knowledge. Again, Evernote’s OCR capabilities allows me to perform power searches across all the information contained in the system.
This gives you some insight into my repositories. Now I’ll have to go and write about my workflows, won’t I?