Driving Quality Improvement through Audits: Moving beyond the Negative Connotations Sometimes Associated with Audits, This Article Refocuses Attention on Their Positive, Evaluative Potential for Organizations and the RIM Professional's Role in Using Them to Drive Quality Improvement

By Barnes, Nancy Dupre; Barnes, Nicholas R. | Information Management, January-February 2012 | Go to article overview

Driving Quality Improvement through Audits: Moving beyond the Negative Connotations Sometimes Associated with Audits, This Article Refocuses Attention on Their Positive, Evaluative Potential for Organizations and the RIM Professional's Role in Using Them to Drive Quality Improvement


Barnes, Nancy Dupre, Barnes, Nicholas R., Information Management


While an audit remains an important organizational process, it is also one of the more complex activities facing managers in non-profit, for-profit, and government settings. The term can take on a variety of meanings. And, audits may be initiated for many reasons.

The consequences of such audits can be far-reaching and more than a little sobering, producing some measure of fear and loathing in those being audited. For example, an audit by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is usually not welcomed by U.S. taxpayers.

However, records and information management (RIM) practitioners with a forward-looking orientation can move beyond the negative connotations often associated with audits and capitalize upon opportunities for RIM program improvement by embracing the evaluative benefits inherent to the audit process.

Audit Defined and Explained

While audits of various types have been conducted for hundreds of years, it was not until the advent of the Industrial Revolution that the concept of audit as a means to detect fraud or assess financial viability became popular.

Moving beyond the world of accountancy, the twentieth century witnessed the emergence of business management initiatives, where audit is integral to the "plan-do-check-act" cycle of quality improvement popularized by E. W. Deming. Business consultants and researchers have continued the quest for knowledge in that area into the current era.

Recognizing the vast array of audit types and purposes, as well as the diverse contexts within which audits can be conducted, this article homes in on select features of audit initiatives with particular interest to RIM professionals.

Internal vs. External Audits

At a high level, audits can be viewed as one way to measure a component (or components) of an organization's managerial well-being. Audits can be internal or external to an organization. An internal audit is a way for an organization to serf-monitor its process-related effectiveness. Internal audits can be isolated to specific organizational functions or systems--for instance, a RIM professional may engage in an internal audit to assess the RIM function, as a system or series of processes within the organization.

Alternatively, external audits are conducted by an entity outside the organization. Commonly recognized examples are tax audits conducted by the IRS or audits conducted by an accrediting body to monitor compliance with formalized processes, policies, and procedures. For instance, every five years, each accredited U.S. standards developing organization is subject to an audit by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Regulatory and Legal Maandates for Auditing

The passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002 cast a new light on auditing. That act highlights the need for rigorous codification of organizational policies and procedures and the benefits of standardization of processes, while prodding the statutory clout to engender compliance.

Besides Sarbanes-Oxley, there are other legal and regulatory mandates by which organizations are required to undergo periodic audits. Such audits can document the organization's ability to fulfill its obligations and yield appropriate outcomes for multiple stakeholders in a diverse society.

Evaluation Defined and Explained

The Merriam-Webstor online dictionary defines the verb evaluate as "to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study." This definition reflects the relationship between audit (a type of careful appraisal and study) and evaluation (a determination of significance, worth, or condition).

Evaluation is more often characterized by planning and forethought, rather than spur-of-the-moment, ad hoc types of efforts. Value-laden determinations arise from evaluations, and they may be conducted in high-stakes settings where individuals, teams, programs, etc. …

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