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The Paper Elephant

Another Place In Time

I am pictured here in 1987 busily audit planning; pencil in hand, calculator ready, and awash in paper. I am architecting an internal cash audit for my employer, which covered 300 point-of-purchase sites, spanning five separate geographic regions. Each site sold, and inventoried thousands of retail products. The audit was focused on sales versus stock orders, cash transfers to corporate, and locally held cash. The objective was to detect excessive local cash holdings.


Audit Plans: Manual Entry All The Way

Our total audit team consisted of six auditors, and one very heavy laptop that we lugged about, and time shared. Don’t be misled by the presence of a laptop, as absolutely none of the audit planning, or execution for that matter, was accomplished via automated tools. It was paper, paper, and more paper that grew from site to site as the audit progressed. The laptop simply enabled us to pull items of interest from the corporate mainframe during planning, which we then had to print out, reenter by hand into Lotus123 spreadsheets; only to be physically carried on the laptop during the six weeks of audit execution.

Digitally Disconnected: The Paper Elephant Lives

The internet did not yet exist. Audit artifacts could not simply be digitally created and transferred to the mainframe at corporate, as we journeyed from site to site. Work papers, exhibits, interim findings, site out-brief notes, and all other audit trappings existed only as paper files. We nicknamed this ever growing pile the paper elephant. Unlike Hannibal’s elephants it could not be ridden into battle; only carried. By the end of the audit trail it had grown to several thousand pages.

Communicating Interim Results: The Land Line Rules

Interim findings and progress reports were phoned in to management from temporary offices, and motel rooms along the way. The complete audit analysis did not occur until we returned with the paper elephant to corporate, retyped the salient items into the mainframe, and crunched the numbers. The paper elephant was then parsed, and neatly filed into metal cabinets.

Numbers, Numbers Everywhere, and Now It’s Time To Think

Analysis findings were not then, as now, created from digital files via drag-and-drop, single-click access apps. There were no clear and intuitive user interface softcopy displays that boost efficiency; no data mining tools to detectanomalies, and summarize statistical trends. Instead it was strictly a paper-and-pencil analysis fed by the paper elephant, trended by human judgement, and powered by lots of coffee. Naturally, the final audit report was distributed as a paper document.

Back to The Future

Joyfully, the paper elephant of my early audit experience is now extinct. The modern audit universe provides the automated tools to end-to-end plan, resource manage, and execute a complex audit scenario. Audit inputs are uploaded per the plan, and organized to optimize risk assessments, vulnerability appraisals, and fraud detection. The heaviest tool an audit manager need carry now is a mobile phone. SAP Audit Magement, if only we had only met thirty years ago!

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