Audit Support Systems Article Summary
In the assigned article, Audit support systems and decision aid: Current practice and opportunities for future research, Carlin Dowling and Stewart Leech examine the use of audit support systems within large accounting firms and the effectiveness of their design. These audit support systems are electronic programs that use digital workbooks and online files to help direct the auditor to proper standards and efficient audits. The systems can be very effective tool for an audit firm in that they help organize the file, standardize similar audits and provide useful information to auditor. Dowling and Leech are rightfully concerned that the overuse of the systems will eventually standardize methods that should not be standard from one audit to another and that the design of these systems restricts the auditor to customize the audit. They describe this issue as “audit support system restrictiveness.”
Audit support system restrictiveness is a combination of the system restrictiveness’ that is present in any digital business mapping system and audit structure. Essentially, even though an audit support system can be very useful in providing structure to an audit, the system can also restrict the user from customizing the work papers to best cater to the audit. The article uses audit support system restrictiveness as their primary theme when comparing the audit support systems between various firms.
Dowling and Leech looked at five accounting firms’ audit support systems; the four “Big 4” and one more large-mid global firm. The article found that the use of their audit support systems was generally mandatory with exceptions only allowed for smaller clients. The article also detailed the level of tailoring each system has to the audit. All systems tailor the workbook in certain ways depending on the industry, client, level of audit, type of work, etc. Two of the five firms had the tailoring performed automatically by the system; the audit would answer standard questions regarding the audit and then the system will automatically create a workbook template that is best catered to the client. The article noted that these automated systems often times create a level of reliance on the system automation.
The issue with over-reliance on an automated system is very prevalent in the accounting profession. In theory, every audit should be unique and completely catered to the business. The auditor should use client-specific and industry-specific tests of relevant assertions using the appropriate auditing standards and guidelines. Audits should never be “cookie cutter,” as in; each audit needs to be a unique product of the audit team that is based on the client-specific needs and risks. An audit support system can group certain clients together and force the audit team to use templates that may not be perfect for the client. Ultimately, systems without