The first audits were known as ‘interrogation of accounts’ and go as far back as ancient Rome. Officials checked the content of documents created by others to prevent errors and thus loss of money.
Auditing in a form resembling the current one has existed since the 19th century. Nowadays, its main task is to improve the operations of an organisation. It should not be confused with an inspection. In contrast, it is based on a specific plan and indicates the need for specific changes. In addition, this type of audit is usually undertaken voluntarily.
Audit – what is it?
An audit is an independent assessment of an organisation, system, product or project aimed at improving it. Its objective is to check that it complies with defined standards, the organisation’s internal regulations, laws and accepted benchmarks. Due to their position in the organisation, audits are divided into internal and external audits.
An advisory and verification activity aimed at improving the operational activities of the organisation. Its task is to help achieve the objectives set; it focuses on improving processes related to risk management, control and management of the unit. The internal audit has developed intensively since the first half of the 20th century. In 1941, the International Institute of Internal Auditors was founded to bring together the relevant professionals.
This audit is carried out by independent auditors – people who are not connected with the organisation in question. There are two types of external audit: second-party audit (e.g. when a unit carries out an analysis of its suppliers) and third-party audit (e.g. certification). This type of analysis helps to build a reputation and establish the unit’s position.
Types of audit
There are many types of audits tailored to the type of activity the organisations being audited carries out. Each one requires access to different data, and is carried out in a slightly different way and using appropriate tools. What they have in common is the main objective: to identify the changes needed to improve the work of the unit.
The benefits of having a team that speaks foreign languages cannot be overestimated for multinational companies: they reduce costs, facilitate relations with foreign partners and have a positive impact on business negotiations. A language audit helps to determine the language competence of employees or candidates applying for a particular position in the company. It assesses the knowledge of vocabulary and grammatical structures and four main skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking.
The CEFR, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, is usually used as a reference point in a language audit. It helps to determine your level of proficiency in a language using six levels:
A1 – beginner / elementary,
A2 – basic / pre-intermediate,
B1 – lower intermediate,
B2 – upper intermediate,
C1 – advanced,
C2 – proficient / professional.
Each level specifies the competences that a foreign language learner should have. For the lowest, A1, this includes understanding and using basic phrases related to everyday life, introducing oneself and others and engaging in a simple conversation. To speak at the highest proficiency (C2), one must understand virtually all communications (both listening and reading), have the ability to summarise information and express thoughts in a fluent, spontaneous and precise manner.
The Council of Europe has also defined the approximate learning time required to reach a given level. To acquire A1, A2 and B1, about 120 hours are required at each stage; mastering the material sequentially for B2, C1 and C2 requires about 240 hours (i.e. a total of 720 hours). Of course, it is a huge simplification; all students are unique and require learning tailored to their needs.
Conducting an audit
Conducting a language audit is possible both in the traditional way (through a paper-based exam and an interview) and by using appropriate software such as Focus Audit Tool, one of the best platforms available on the market. It allows you to comprehensively test your knowledge of over 30 languages remotely. This saves both our time and that of the people being tested. The results are available as soon as the exam is over or up to 48 hours later. It is also possible to tailor the audit to our needs; the offer includes:
Recruitment audit – ideal for verifying the language competence of job candidates. It tests vocabulary, grammar, writing and speaking.
Full audit – the most advanced exam; it thoroughly checks all language competences.
Abbreviated audit – most commonly used for initial testing of language proficiency. It tests grammar, vocabulary and reading.
Writing and speaking – tests the ability to use the foreign language in practice.
Abbreviated + writing or speaking – focuses on the mode of communication that is most important for the job.
The purpose of this type of audit is to determine the impact that a company, process or project has on the environment. It helps, for example, to show what carbon footprint the equipment used produces, how energy consumption can be reduced by optimising the operation of the unit, or how to minimise the production of electro-waste. Given the environmental challenges currently affecting our planet, this type of study is becoming increasingly important.
Clinical study audit
This audit is used to ensure that a clinical trial designed to demonstrate that a medicinal product or medical device is effective and safe has been carried out according to its protocol.
An energy audit deals with identification of the existing energy consumption (of a building, installation or entire company) and the identification of measures to reduce it. It also reports on the anticipated savings that can be achieved following optimisation processes. As a result of this study, we obtain proposals for specific modernisation measures with their cost, profit and payback time.
The analysis and evaluation of knowledge in a company in terms of its usefulness is called a knowledge audit. It is carried out to increase the chances of achieving a competitive advantage. Not only explicit knowledge is taken into account, but also implicit knowledge resulting from the experiences of the people who make up the company in question.
An ethical audit is carried out to assess an organisation’s adherence to accepted ethical principles. Its task is to identify actions that help to create a company culture, increase the transparency of decisions, reduce the risk of corruption and have a positive impact on relations with the environment.
Today, it is almost impossible for a company to exist and prosper in the market without appropriate marketing activities. These are optimised by a marketing audit. It analyses, for example, the company’s environment (e.g. its customers and competitors), its strengths and weaknesses (SWOT analysis) and the adopted advertising strategy. Adherence to the measures proposed as a result of the audit can significantly increase the number of customers and, consequently, profit.
A quality audit determines whether the company’s processes comply with established standards (e.g. ISO standards). If necessary, it also identifies areas that require improvement or corrective action.
The purpose of an IT audit is to demonstrate whether the IT system protects company assets, maintains data integrity, provides reliable information and prevents undesirable events. It takes standards relating to IT process management, quality management or IT security as a benchmark. Depending on the area audited, it can be divided into three types: software legality audit, hardware audit and security audit.
A financial audit is the examination of the financial statements. Its purpose is to ascertain whether they represent the true financial situation of the organisation. In addition, the compliance of the documents with accounting rules and regulations is analysed. Institutions that are legally obliged to undergo a financial audit include banks, insurance companies, cooperative savings and loan associations and joint-stock companies.
This type of audit is carried out to demonstrate whether the taxpayer is accounting in accordance with the applicable law. During its course, source documentation (such as invoices and receipts, commercial contracts and tax reports) and the procedures performed by the taxpayer are analysed. The omissions that are identified as a result of the audit make it possible to avoid fiscal and tax liability and to introduce measures to prevent them in the future.
The efficiency of a company’s operational activities is examined by an operational audit. It analyses the efficiency and effectiveness of the unit’s systems. It also assesses the way in which management plans its activities and controls the achievement of the objectives set. The result of the audit, in addition to a summary of conclusions, includes recommendations to improve the organisation’s performance.
What does the audit check?
The overall objective of the audit is to find areas of the organisation that need improvement and to propose solutions to improve their operation. The specific subject of the audit varies depending on the type of analysis: for a language audit it will be language skills, for an environmental audit it will be the company’s impact on the environment, for an energy audit it will be the energy profile, and for a quality audit it will be the compliance of processes with standards.
Who carries out the audit?
Audits are carried out by auditors, i.e. specialists professionally engaged in this type of examination. They are divided into internal and external ones. The task of the former is to find the best methods of their own organisation’s operations and improve its performance. To achieve this, they audit the operation of the institution’s processes.
External auditors are not associated with a particular unit. Their main objective is to analyse the processes within the organisation, to identify areas of activity that need to be changed and to determine whether it meets the standards for obtaining the necessary certification. Such specialists help companies to take appropriate measures to improve the quality of their services.
The auditor should demonstrate expertise and higher education in line with the type of audit they are carrying out. In this profession, it is important to continuously develop. Specialists are also required to be familiar with the relevant legislation.
Who carries out the language audit?
A language audit is carried out by professionals who speak the language in question to an excellent, often native (or near-native) level. In addition, they are familiar with the criteria required at each level of proficiency and demonstrate analytical thinking skills. Many of them have gained their professional experience by taking official tests to check the level of a given language (e.g. DELE for Spanish, DELF for French, or IELTS for English).
The Focus Audit Tool was developed by such people; auditors specialised in language teaching. Skrivanek’s 25 years of experience in the market gave it the experience necessary to create a tool which, through its intuitive platform, optimises the process of checking language competences and significantly reduces the time needed to see results.