Hitting our accounts deadlines whilst working from home

Thursday, August 20, 2020 - 5:37pm

Andrew Strong explains how Audit Wales secured access to NHS financial ledgers to enable us to complete NHS accounts work

COVID-19 is forcing people all over the world to find new ways of working.  At Audit Wales we have made a breakthrough in securing remote access to financial ledgers, which has helped us meet our accounts deadline.

Our NHS audit teams now have secure remote access to the NHS financial ledgers, which has enabled them to complete specific audit work from home. With the COVID disruption and restrictions on travel this proved essential to carry on our audit work.  One of my Audit Manager colleagues at a health board told me that it ‘greatly helped the NHS audit team to meet the revised deadlines for signing the NHS accounts’.    The Auditor General signed off the accounts in early July, and this is the work teams at Audit Wales and in NHS bodies did to achieve this.

As part of our approach to the ‘Data Enabled Audit of Accounts’

we’ve worked hard to get our auditors remote access to the NHS financial ledgers.  Remote access allowed staff to work from home or anywhere, to log on to our Audited Bodies network and use the Oracle financial ledger IT systems of the NHS bodies we audit. This access allows 35 financial auditors to complete enquiries of the ledger, for example, on payroll, accounts payable, revenues and invoice payments. We’ve also gained access to the NHS Oracle Qlikview business reporting tool.   

There are many benefits to having this ‘smarter way of working’ and remote access, not just for Audit Wales but also the finance teams at our Audited Bodies, these include: 

  • time saving in travelling and a better work-life balance for staff; 
  • fewer car journeys to fixed office locations resulting in increased staff safety and reduced environmental impact; 
  • reducing costs of travel and accommodation;
  • helping to reduce audit queries and requests for information at key times when officer are preparing the statement of accounts;
  • greater flexibility when resourcing staff to audits; and
  • assisting in the conduct of a more effective audit process.

Clearly current circumstances made achieving remote access more pressing than ever.  Given that the Welsh NHS use the same ledger system we initially thought getting remote access would be straight-forward although it did not work out like that!  Suffice to say many e-mails, conversations and forms were required before we achieved our ambition.  However, by the start of revised accounts preparation deadlines for the NHS draft accounts in May, financial auditors from across all audit teams had achieved remote access to the ledgers from their Audit Wales laptops.

Although there were challenges, this was a real team effort from across Audit Wales, NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership (NWSSP) and NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) who both worked really hard to help set this up for us.  We all needed to ensure the remote access method was a secure virtual private network and the software installed on our Audit Wales laptops was secure and would work with our technology.   We also needed to complete access forms for our Audit Wales users as a record of granting access, user guides to set up the user logins and access and how to use the system.  

So a very big shout out not just to both NWSSP and NWIS but also to the finance teams at the NHS organisations in Wales who also helped make this happen at a local level on the Oracle financial ledgers.  So that’s remote access to the NHS set up, next step local and central Government audits!

We are now working on setting up access to the ledger for all local government and other audit bodies where this is not yet enabled. It’s still early stages, but it’s a promising start on the path we want to be on for future ways of audit working.

Our Digital Vision talks about us wanting a future of ‘digitally-enabled ways of working to drive quality, efficiency and wellbeing’.  In addition, our Data Analytics work will require us in the future to have better ongoing access to the data held on audited bodies’ financial IT systems.  Our aspiration for 2020-21 and beyond is to have a ‘data-driven and analytics assisted audit approach’, having scheduled data downloads at key stages throughout the financial year to allow a more effective financial audit. 

We hope that all organisation we audit , will think seriously about setting up remote audit access to financial ledger systems, as well as extending this to other key financial systems in the future.

 

 

About the Author

Andrew Strong has worked for Audit Wales and its predecessor bodies since 2002. He is currently a Financial Audit Lead in the IM&T Audit team working on a wide range of IT audit, data analytics and digital reviews across the Welsh Public Sector.  Andrew is a certified information systems auditor as well as qualifying as a chartered accountant many years ago.