A survey has found a preference for keeping remote or blended audits, assessments and evaluations.

A joint International Accreditation Forum (IAF), International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) poll in August looked at views on virtual assessment techniques that were used during COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

In total, 4,320 responses were received including from those who were both subject to and deliver remote audits, assessments and evaluations. More than 600 respondents said they had no experience with a remote audit, assessment or evaluation in the past year. A blended audit involves virtual and onsite checks.

Support for remote auditing
Eighty percent of 1,258 respondents agreed that remote procedures give the same confidence as onsite audits while 79 percent said that they would like to see continued or increased use of remote activities in the future.

More than 90 percent felt that a substantial increase in remote techniques will stimulate the use of new processes and almost all agreed to some extent that technologies and alternative techniques should be used.

Benefits to remote working include reduced travel time and costs, efficient use of time during assessment, and a reduced carbon footprint.

While the organizations admitted it was uncertain what the so-called new normal will look like, it was clear that some degree of remote working will remain for many industries.

“The survey indicates a huge level of support for remote techniques, a clear understanding of the benefits and a desire to see these methods adopted more widely. Enthusiasm for new means of delivering audits, assessments and evaluations is clear and we will work hard to continue to evolve the support for all those who use and benefit from certification, accreditation and standards,” said Xiao Jianhua, IAF chair.

Organizations such as accreditation and conformity assessment bodies now provide services such as certification, inspection and testing and related accreditation activities remotely.

If there are no further pandemic restrictions, 60 percent would prefer blended audits, assessments or evaluations; 19 percent preferred fully remote and 21 percent wanted to continue onsite.

Some issues remain
Almost three quarters were satisfied with their remote experience, a quarter were somewhat satisfied, and just 4 percent said they were dissatisfied. Some problems included poor internet connection and possible threats to information security.

Hundreds of suggestions, ideas and proposals were put forward by users, auditors, assessors and people who have been involved with remote audits, assessments and evaluations.

Slightly more than half of respondents felt that the preparation could be more difficult and time-consuming with remote. A total of 37 percent said current rules including international standards, IAF and ILAC procedures should be modified to better accommodate remote techniques.

IAF, ILAC and ISO said they would analyze the results and consider the steps necessary to incorporate the findings in documents and processes.

“Pre-pandemic work supporting the use of remote techniques, followed by the reaction of the conformity assessment community to the pandemic, has also been demonstrated in the survey results with the high level of acceptance of the widespread use of remote techniques,” said Etty Feller, ILAC chair.

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