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The need for data visualisation

Christos Skapoullis looks at the need to produce more impactful reporting.

Internal auditors are required to produce and communicate a number of reports, which vary from standardised reporting to ad-hoc requests. Internal audit reports are a fraction of what management is confronted with on a daily basis, most of which are significant and important. Having in mind this report overload, there is a need for internal auditors to develop the skill of producing more impactful reporting with less volume. The response to this challenge lies in processing further the available data, designing intelligent reports using smart tools and presenting simple, relevant and conclusive information. It is fundamental to have in mind that however imaginative an Internal Auditor wishes to be, conformance with International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing is essential.

With regard to engagements communication, information can be summarised and presented in a way that is attentional and sufficient. A reader of the report will get the required information with just a glance of a visual presentation instead of going through paragraphs of words. For example, an opinion will be much more powerful if is accompanied with a visualisation of facts rather than statements describing the factors to support the opinion. Introducing visualisation techniques can make reports easier to read and understand while focusing on the main figures of what an internal auditor is trying to report.

A requirement that needs to be addressed by the internal auditor is the depth in which the visualisation will be implemented. Assuming availability of information, the internal auditor will have to choose how to use the visual enhancements in reporting since there are many options available that can be proven beneficial in multiple ways. For instance, real-time visualisation techniques will use a live feed of information and process them according to previously set templates. Thus, the reader of the report – e.g. management – will be able to access the aforementioned at any time needed, and by that all of related, up to date information will be available. Another example, when it comes to introducing visualisations in reporting, is to use a stand-alone visualisation mechanism, which can be managed by the end user. Such a tool can be supported by a back-end process which will process, sanitise and input the related data, while – on the front-end – the user will be able to interact and produce any of the available reports, at any time given.

To sum up, we are in an era where Internal Audit need to use vast amounts of data to not only report on the past but also provide timely assurance and insights about the business' future. This therefore calls for Internal Audit to employ dynamic analytics or visualisation tool to increase the impact of opinions. As a result, internal audit must try to adopt and implement dynamic reporting and visualisation techniques that deal with the big-data problem and produce results that enhance Internal Audit’s ability to make an impact and gain influence.

About the author

Christos Skapoullis, Head of Internal Audit at AstroBank Ltd and member of ICAEW’s Internal Audit Panel.