A forward-looking approach to international comparison

The idea of information sharing is not new, of course, it is promoted and supported as an important work tool of audit institutions by ISSAIs. But, the BIEP project goes a bit further.

Within the BIEP project, a database of comparable information from audits performed by individual audit institutions is being created. Auditors and analysts from different SAIs will be able to easily find the well-arranged methodical documents, soft and hard metrics (KPIs) including achieved values as results from audits gathered in one place. This place is on the Extranet (a secure repository under the Czech SAO administration that allows colleagues from different SAIs to access via the internet and look up any information that is interesting to them.  At this moment, we have successfully passed test of this repositories´ functions and we are ready to fine tune the benchmarking information and data sharing. Of course, all EXTRANET users should respect the confidentiality of information acquired during the course of performing activities within the BIEP and should not use or disclose any such information without proper and specific authority from the SAI, that shares its data and information within the Extranet. These rules of engagement are binding for all users and are more specified within enrolment procedures.

Benchmarking conducted by SAIs give an opportunity to be systematic and increase our levels of international cooperation. Various state policies data, monitored and shared by audit institutions, will be systematically compared. To date, the SAO has proposed five areas in which to test international comparisons: real estate infrastructure, social housing, eGovernment, education, and prison system. Naturally, the project is open to ideas from all audit institutions that wish to participate in in the BIEP. The SAO has been processing three areas within its current and finished audit operations: The topic of social housing to which the strategic benchmarking is linked, the topic of real estate infrastructure to which the strategic and performance benchmarking is linked and the topic of Excise duty administration. These topics will provide a pilot benchmarking methodology.

At this point, I think it is useful to recall the 5 basic principles of the BIEP project:

  • An SAI can suggest new topics for benchmarking and it can express interest in any specific topic.
  • An SAI can start to cooperate on it at any stage.
  • An SAI can use already existing methodology or cooperate on a new methodology as well.
  • Results and background information will be shared with partners (SAIs) of the project.
  • An SAI produces a performance audit report using the BIEP methodology and results for its own country

Of course, it is not possible to compare everything. It is critical that the information be comparable and relevant and that the methodologies possess a common basis. One example of such an approach is the Excise duty administration coordinated audit by the SAIs of the Czech and Slovak Republics. The audit included a comparison of information systems where the common basis was European Union legislation, which established conditions for all EU Member countries. Thus, the systems were based on identical parameters. Comparing the audit results revealed that the information system utilized by the Czech Republic cost less than that used by the Slovak Republic.

Accessibility and information clarity allows us to discover how various audit institutions approach similar situations. This knowledge sharing will provide inspiration and best practices allowing audit entities and public institutions to be better placed to provide value to its citizens, a mission the SAO believes is crucial not only for individual SAIs, but also for EUROSAI itself.

If you are interested in benchmarking and your SAI is keen to share ideas, information and data within the BIEP, please send email to stefan.kabatek@nku.cz and you will receive further details not only to access the BIEP Extranet but also how to initiate the new way to collaborate.

by Stefan Kabatek, Supreme Audit Office of the Czech Republic.