Following the interesting theme of the GALF-meeting 2017: ”The auditor of the future” and the engagements arising from the CBC annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in September 2017, the CBC Secretariat is happy to publish this article written by Ms Tytti Yli-Viikari, Auditor General of Finland, deliberating on our challenging future as auditors in a world of artificial intelligence.
In the Finnish folklore, we have strong myths around the notion of luck and outside source of well-being in contrast to the notion of being personally responsible for one’s well-being. Our national epic, the Kalevala, depicts how the Sampo, our equivalent for cornucopia, is lost at sea in a battle over its ownership. In his novel on king Gustave Adolf and the Thirty Years’ War, Zachris Topelius highlights the negative outcomes rising from the king’s blind trust in his powerful ring as he attempts to conquer more land through impossible battles. The life-protective and success-guaranteeing power of the ring vanishes the moment its holder’s finger is cut and the ring slips away.
Public institutions should not blindly believe in the power of their constitutional or statutory position in society. Disruption can be a force that cuts the finger and hence the ring of status. We see the banking and insurance sectors currently preparing for their potential Kodak-moment. The challenge at hand means facing completely new business models that make use of rapid technological and behavioral changes. The private accounting and auditing sectors move in the direction of artificial intelligence (AI), comprehensive data-analytics, automation and business models based on new customer needs and expectations.
Supreme Audit Institutions need to take action in building capacity that allows us to be relevant actors in the midst of disruption. We can do this through sharing best practice on robust capacity-building policies and their implementation, incorporating the stakeholder perspective closer into our work, putting the ISSAI 12 into practice and supporting innovation in our working methods.
If through the sinking of the Sampo the Finns lost their magical external source of happiness and wealth, then perhaps our inner drivers for self-sustainability were strengthened by this myth. We were early adopters of the notion of life-long learning and the Finnish public administration is known for its strive for agile adaptation to the changes in the operational environment. We have built the world’s happiest country through education and structures enhancing equal opportunity. From a capacity-building perspective, personal goals can be an efficient link to the goals of the institution and the goals of the society in which we work. Fostering the sense of responsibility for one’s own growth and development benefits the whole society.
We can recognize individual responsibility as a core building block for future-proof SAIs. However, the pace of change in our operating environment is so rapid, that our workforce needs guidance and direction in the task of acquiring new skills and competencies. SAIs can benefit from calling on external specialists in monitoring the new tools and technological solutions, but in most cases our main challenge now is to build institutional capabilities in IT-audit, data-analytics and in integrating an IT approach to all audit types, as well as developing the soft skills of our employees. Our recruitment policies should acknowledge the need for people, who have the potential to constantly learn new things, who have good communication- and team-working skills, who make use of emotional intelligence and are ready to adapt to new requirements.
The role of leadership in managing change is important. This means SAIs gain from running ambitious leadership programs and grooming potential leaders. Auditors need insight and the ability to see the bigger picture, to fully understand the information needs of decision-makers. This means that also experts need leadership skills. We can develop these competences through mentoring, peer-to-peer learning and through delegating leadership roles to experts. Innovative pilot projects can serve as experimentation ground for new leaders and new methodologies. Within experimental pilot projects the objective should be on the learning experience. The setting of targets should thus give room for possible failure so as to encourage innovation and non-conformism.
For the individual experts and auditors, the future is bright. Their tasks will focus more on delivering forward-looking information to enhance the sustainable development of public administration. Multi-talented teams will improve systems-thinking, complex problem-solving and organizational knowledge-building. Their work will be rewarding and varied. Their motivation levels will grow, as the impact of SAI work can be monitored in real-time and as an active stakeholder dialogue will ensure their work is relevant.
Disruption challenges all actors in public administration. The platform economy and its real-time service responsiveness transform the expectations of citizens and service users. The questions around ethics and morale are key when we prepare for integrating the notion of singularity in the future of humanity. Nick Bostrom foresees the event of singularity taking place during this century. Auditors can have a role in encouraging a comprehensive debate on ethics, as we prepare ourselves for working with artificial intelligence. Blockchain technology challenges the notion of accountability and assurance. The core principles of public audit will be relevant in the future, but it is crucial we enhance our capacity to foresee the possible changes in the services we provide for our stakeholders as the context of our work evolves. Open data has already challenged the way SAIs interact in society. In many Western societies, access to public data is not an issue. Moreover, the current challenge is the capacity of public institutions to produce timely and relevant analysis and a broad knowledge base for decision-makers and the society at large.
I see the age of disruption as a great opportunity for the SAI community to come closer together. International professional networks are important in public auditors’ skills’ development. Professional standards give us the necessary backbone for common capacity-building. Within INTOSAI, we have excellent platforms for communication, common work and knowledge-sharing. We are not yet using these platforms to their fullest. This could mean that collective resources and shared ownership over the platforms should be enhanced.
The potential in our cooperation is great. It is up to each and every one of us INTOSAI members to bring the best we can to the common tables and platforms. We shall not await some external magical solution to show us the way forward; rather, we could say our Sampo is the international cooperation that produces insight on how to move forward together.
by Tytti Yli-Viikari
Auditor General of Finland
 Event of singularity – the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence (ASI) will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth.
 Digital disruption – the change that occurs when new digital technologies and business models affect the value proposition of existing goods and services.