If anyone has a long view of the evolution of safety, it's LRQA. Yet audit and inspection today is essentially the same as it was centuries ago: sending the right person, to the right place, at the right time, to ask the right questions.
Looking forward, though, can we assume our work will still look like this in the decades to come? Based on the new technologies that we are helping industry to evaluate and implement, my prediction would be absolutely not.
Remote inspections will increase, driven by new technologies
The work currently being done by our digital innovation practice, suggests that a host of innovations will soon transform the traditional approach of sending safety auditors to far-flung locations. We'll see a big rise in remote inspections in a variety of forms: from drone inspections to video conference audits and inspections conducted through mixed-reality devices.
Technologies like these are already reducing the need for auditors to be physically present, meaning inspections are less wasteful, less damaging to the environment, and in some cases less dangerous.
But we'll still need to take care. With humans out of the loop, we'll need to watch carefully—and work carefully with industry and accreditation bodies—to make sure standards and safety don't slip.
The future of assurance is real-time, driven by IoT, blockchain and machine learning
Remote inspections are happening today, but what about a decade from now? By 2030 I predict we'll see much greater use of technologies like AI, blockchain and IoT to drive real-time assurance.
Take an example from our Customised Assurance division, where we're aiming to be the world leader in Food Safety across the whole supply chain, from primary production to retail and hospitality.
We're often asked to audit compliance with third-party standards around temperatures for refrigeration and heating of food. The correct temperature is critical to safety in food processing, transport and preparation. Storage outside of specification can lead to dangerous levels of pathogens, with potentially serious consequences for consumers.
To assess compliance today, we mostly audit a sample of paper records, reviewed periodically to look for historical lapses of compliance. But in a world where the Internet of Things enables continuous monitoring and alerting, and blockchain creates trusted, digitally-accessible records, is the historical, paper-based approach still sensible?
Like their modern, digital counterparts, traditional audit and inspection programmes also comprise data, technology and monitoring challenges. In 10 years' time, those programmes will be digitally encoded, allowing us to move from examining historical non-compliances to monitoring real-time data for anomalies and exceptions.
At the same time, we'll use predictive analytics and machine learning to digest both historical and real-time data, so we can start to predict future concerns—and ultimately prevent many more lapses of compliance.
A joint effort is needed to bring audit and assurance into the real-time age
Getting there will mean working with a vast number of new technology partners—and I do mean vast. It's a massive undertaking to encode audit and inspection programmes, work with industry to securely implement technologies, and then work to ensure the data can be trusted.
But it's a task that a company like LRQA is uniquely placed to take on. Our Nettitude Cyber division allows us to have the conversations around the security of data, while our blockchain projects are already building the ecosystems to trust the information we are being provided.
People and expertise will be crucial to success. Our people will use their technical knowledge to interpret, analyse and design these new frameworks. We will still need to assess the competency of companies providing data, and we will need to continuously assess and recalibrate the criteria and suitability of the rules. These are fundamental assurance requirements, and they won't go away.
An exciting journey ahead
In the journey to real-time assurance, remote inspection is just the beginning. IoT and blockchain will be important enablers, machine learning will be a crucial tool and ultra-reliable low-latency 5G networks will facilitate it all.
The convergence of these technologies creates an opportunity to make a genuine shift for the better in the safety of society. It will take a lot of technology and people working together to get there, but LRQA is ready for the challenge.