Join Richard Chambers for a new episode of his Agents of Change video series, featuring conversations with internal audit leaders from some of the world’s most prominent organizations about innovation in the profession.
In this episode, Richard sits down with Trent Russell, founder of Greenskies Analytics and host of The Audit Podcast, to discuss why harnessing the power of data and eye-catching visuals to effectively communicate about internal audit’s valuable work is key to effectively driving change in an organization, including:
- Innovate the day-to-day — small differences aggregate to make a big impact.
- Use data and good marketing to show the good internal audit is doing in a manner that grabs attention.
- Solve the analytics talent challenge and cultivate a data-savvy team with low and no-code tools.
Watch the full conversation, and read the can’t-miss highlights below.
Analytics Success May Be Determined Not by the Quality of Work, but the Quality of Communication About It.
Richard Chambers: Trent, you’ve had a lot of interesting experiences helping organizations drive transformational change through analytics. Expectations for the internal audit profession are on the rise as risk velocity and volatility are creating a seemingly endless string of surprises for organizations. Are you finding that that is an impetus for internal audit functions to become even more proficient and more committed to data analytics?
Trent Russell: I think we have to. Being able to look at an entire population is the classic use case, but even just being able to do that is something that is transformative, especially if we can communicate those results. That’s a big thing. Even if the analytics work is being done at a high level, if we aren’t sharing those results with management and the board in a way that they understand, then it’s not going to take off as well as it should.
Innovate the Day-to-Day: Small Differences Aggregate to Make a Big Impact
Richard Chambers: In the environment we’ve operated in for the last two years, those audit departments who were able to navigate disruption and to innovate in the way they undertook their mission are the ones that have been most successful. What are some of the tools that you’ve seen internal audit departments adopting to help them become more agile and be more responsive to the environment their organizations are facing?
Trent Russell: It can be something as simple as using video to document analytics procedures or audit procedures. It’s something that we did even earlier than 2020, but simply recording a 60 second video, and using that for documentation is innovative. That’s not a crazy budget blowing type of thing, but still can make an impact. When we think about innovation from that perspective, even a 1% difference across 100 different things is going to add up in the aggregate. It’s definitely important to have an innovative mindset even just with the day to day.
Show the Good Internal Audit Is Doing in a Manner That Grabs Attention
Richard Chambers: Communication has always been critical and I don’t think it’s ever been more critical than right now. In my book, “Agents of Change,” I describe change agents in internal audit as those professionals who are catalysts for transformational ideas that help create value for the organizations they serve. Does that description resonate with you for internal audit?
Trent Russell: Yes, I like that definition. If I added onto it, it would be that we have to get out and market what we’re doing — within the audit function and amongst management — and there’s various ways that people do that. For example, I’ve heard that a lot of audit functions have done roadshows within their organization to spread the word. I feel that we have to be loud about the good that we’re doing and the value that we’re providing.
Richard Chambers: In the book, I say you can’t be a change agent if you’re a secret agent. If no one is able to identify the value that you’re bringing, you’ve probably got a couple of problems. Number one is you may not be delivering enough value if they don’t recognize it right off. But number two is we’ve got to be comfortable talking about the value we bring and the potential that we have to help the organization even more. Would you agree with that?
Trent Russell: As far as how to market what we’re doing, being able to put it in a dashboard or something else visually appealing. Data visualizations is a topic I’ve talked with AuditBoard folks about in the past, and I truly believe that if we can use data to show the work that we’re doing in a manner that grabs attention, that’s how we can be change agents.
The Talent Challenge: How to Cultivate a Data-Savvy Team
Richard Chambers: We won’t have any credibility as a change agent for the organization if they don’t see us making any changes in the way we do business. That brings us back to analytics, which I think most people are quick to recognize is a transformational approach to how we do our work. What would you say to a chief audit executive who said, “Trent, I want to use analytics, but I don’t have anybody on my staff that is experienced and seasoned enough”?
Trent Russell: That’s the big problem that we’re trying to solve: how do we identify the person on the internal audit team that would be a good fit for analytics? Of course you want to keep that person on your team — they know the business better than someone from the outside, they already have the relationships, they just need the skillset to be able to continue to add value using tech and using data.
Up until maybe eight years ago, you basically had to be a programmer and know how to write code and scripts — that’s a huge barrier to getting into analytics. Since then, there’s been a movement towards what they call low code or no code tools.
20 years ago, if you wanted to build a website, you had to sit there and type out that I want this image that’s in this location to be on this part of the website and I want it to be this size. Now if you want to do that, you click on an image and you drag it over to the website and you drop it. With analytics tools, you used to have to program everything, now it’s more drag and drop. Those tools are going to make it significantly easier for an individual to do analytics. There’s still the strategy side and the methodology that need to be taken into consideration, but the tools piece should get easier over the next five or 10 years.
Richard Chambers: Good point, Trent. AuditBoard has announced new automation and analytics capabilities and I’m confident that AuditBoard, knowing the products like I do, is going to be providing the kind of tools we’re talking about that will make it much easier for internal audit professionals and others to use analytics.=
Marketing Internal Audit Is Essential to Make a Difference
Richard Chambers: When we wrote “Agents of Change” book, we identified four attributes of the real change agents in our profession: business acumen, a strategic mindset, a relationship centric, and innovative. You’ve been around the internal audit profession for a good chunk of your career. Do those resonate with you as far as things that people need to be capable of?
Trent Russell: Yeah, absolutely, especially the emphasis on relationships. The piece that I would sub in there that we’ve talked about already is the marketing side of things. You can be innovative. You can have the acumen. But as you said, if you’re a secret agent instead of a change agent, then it’s not going to make as big a difference.