Well over a million companies worldwide are audited annually by third-party certification bodies against a variety of international standards addressing disciplines such as quality management, information security, environmental management, and many others. Maintaining those certifications is important to the organization and is often contractually required by its customers and/or regulatory agencies.
Navigating A Remote Audit During COVID-19
One of the challenges faced by many businesses over the past year as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic is how to best handle third-party audits. Historically, these audits were almost always done by the audit team visiting the site to be audited and meeting face-to-face with the organization’s employees. However, due to abrupt changes in national and state laws regarding travel and gatherings, as well as a concern by all organizations for the safety and welfare of their employees, suitable alternatives had to be rapidly developed and implemented.
ACDi is certified to ISO 9001, AS9100D, and ANSI/ESD S20.20. We were scheduled for our annual audits to take place at both our North Carolina and Maryland electronics manufacturing facilities in November of 2020. We were notified by our registrar several weeks in advance that a remote audit would be performed unless there were extenuating circumstances that would prevent a remote audit. (Rarely, there are some facilities where internet access is non-existent, or the bandwidth so limited as to prevent the effective use of videoconferencing software such as Zoom or GoToMeeting. There are also facilities where no cameras or photography are allowed for security reasons. Thankfully, ACDi did not fit into either category.)
Choosing A Virtual Platform For Your Audit
Typically, the organization being audited selects the video conferencing platform to be used and sets-up a single meeting for each audit day where participants can come and go as needed. This allows for great flexibility in scheduling and participation and works much better than trying to schedule many short meetings. ACDi chose Zoom as our platform, but there are several others that would work just as well.
While much of our audit could take place from offices and conference rooms, we also needed to be able to go out onto the electronics manufacturing floor while maintaining full videoconferencing functionality. Our IT Systems Administrator created a “robot” – a wi-fi enabled webcam and laptop on wheels that we could easily push around to access virtually anywhere in the building. As we were rolling along out on the floor, the auditor could say, “I’d like to speak to that person in the brown pants standing beside the workstation” and we could make it happen in an instant.
Be Prepared: Test Your Platform
It is vitally important to work with the lead auditor and schedule a test of your video conferencing system several days before the actual audit is scheduled to begin. This is the time to work out any hardware or software “bugs”, find out if there are any wi-fi “dead spots,” make sure that everyone who will need to join the meeting is able to do so, and ensure that the audio, video, and screen-sharing is working as expected. One thing we learned is not to skimp on webcams; some give excellent audio and video quality while others make it hard to even hear what the person is saying.
It’s also a good idea to do some contingency planning, just in case the infamous Murphy, of Murphy’s Law, makes an appearance. Have a primary and backup option for personnel, technology, and facilities needs.
Opinions proffered on the internet and from various other sources regarding remote audit experiences run the gamut, with some describing the experience as “very successful” and others saying, “we didn’t get value from it at all”. But one can find those same opinions expressed after conventional in-person audits as well. A successful audit has many components, only one of which is the method of interaction between the auditor and auditees.
The Results Are In
All of the people involved in the remote audit process at ACDi felt that it went really well and that we got good value from the audit of our electronics manufacturing processes. Despite our pre-planning, we had a few small technological hiccups that were quickly resolved.
We completed the audits at both facilities on-schedule and with no more disruption to normal contract manufacturing operations than would have been experienced in an on-site audit. We also saved some money by not having to pay for the auditor’s travel and expenses.
Just as with a face-to-face audit, attitude counts. If all parties are working together in a spirit of cooperation, the audit will go much more smoothly and almost any obstacle can be overcome.
If you have your first remote audit upcoming, don’t worry. If you prepare in advance, maintain a positive attitude, and remain flexible in your approach, you should do fine.
Finally, yes, ACDi passed the yearly ISO 9001, AS9100D, and ANSI/ESD S20.20 audit. To discuss your electronics manufacturing projects with one of our team members, call 301-363-7370.