On pizzerias and Supreme Audit Institutions

As a teenager, I used my bicycle to fetch pizzas for our family. The bike ride took twenty minutes, but the atmosphere in the pizzeria was always warm and cosy, and I forgot the sense of time. I probably got some treat from the pizzaiolo while waiting for the comfortably familiar set of pizzas coming out of the oven one at a time.

The memory comes up whenever I discover a great new pizzeria and then I come to think of how the world has changed. How our needs as customers have changed. How the business model of pizzerias has changed. I now know of no teenager, who would set him/herself on a bicycle to go and wait in a pizzeria for hours on end just to bring half-cold pizzas back home. Recently, I read about Zume in Mountain View, working on disrupting the pizzeria industry with robotics and automated cooking-vehicles that provide freshly baked pizzas to customers’ doorsteps.

When serving customers audit information, our current dilemma is somewhat similar to the pizzeria dilemma. How to keep up with the expectations the technological boom creates? How to find a fit-for-purpose model for our audit reporting? How to attract new users for the information we bake in our year-on-year audit cycles?

We at the Supreme Audit Institution need to know the needs of our customers. We need to understand how in a given national context, the global trends of digitalization, open data and data-analytics shape the expectations of our stakeholders. We need to understand, which parts of our clientele await a luxury serving and which parts are looking for a quick snack. We will want to stay alert to how the price/quality-analysts judge the added value of our impact on society.

Food culture differs from country to country. So does the pace of digitalization and its effects on society. For my part, I need to know how the appetite for information is changing in Finland. Listening to some exterior perceptions on Finnish food, we understand Finns go for value for money and easy access with a good standard for hygiene, with less emphasis on taste and culture. This is not to say we wouldn’t walk miles to find the exquisite original Neapolitan dough, but the general trend is rather straight to the point. Thus, our audit reporting structure provides the meat before the entrée, keeps the criteria jargon to a minimum and the dessert is cut from the menu. We spend valuable time on quality and we study our impact through feedback surveys and an enhanced dialogue with our stakeholders.

Due to demography and structural change, the Finnish public sector is facing a vast renewal, with a turn-over of half the civil servants in the next seven years. How will the next generation of policymakers learn to appreciate the value of our audit work? Where and when will they be open to digest audit information? They certainly will not hop on their bicycles and wait for us to deliver when it suits us no matter how entangled we are with our internal processes, guidelines and human resource challenges.

The next generation of public officials and politicians expect us to foresee their needs and use the toppings that they see as relevant. They want to be served a straight-out-of-oven product on the dot when they believe the time is right for consuming it. It is once we put the customer at the centre of our audit planning and reporting that we can expect to be at the right tables at the right time.