What should you do if you know hardly anything about auditing or artificial intelligence (AI)? As new employees, we were driven by our ambition to succeed and develop audit work to meet future needs. The participants in the National Audit Office's programme for young professionals were assigned a development project that aimed at bringing AI to the agency. The project proved to be both inspiring and challenging. It was clear from the outset that, in order to succeed, we would need the help of experienced auditors.
The National Audit Office of Finland (NAOF) hired four young professionals for the programme, which also meant four new and different ways of working. From the very beginning of the project, we were given full freedom to decide how we wanted to work. The management also gave us free rein to experiment, despite the risk of failure. Starting with a clean sheet of paper enabled us to come up with new ways of working in the course of the project.
We had the opportunity to cooperate with experienced auditors in several different compositions. This kind of collaboration also opened our eyes to the ways other people worked. A key insight to our success was that we put the pieces of the project together as in a jigsaw puzzle by combining our own skills with the expertise of the NAOF’s development-oriented personnel.
Finding the edge pieces to build the frames
What should you do if you know hardly anything about auditing or artificial intelligence? As new employees, we were driven by our burning ambition to succeed and develop audit work to meet future needs. We learned about AI by participating in different kinds of external training events and programmes, and received help from the NAOF’s own experts to get in on the world of auditing.
In this way, we managed to turn the puzzle pieces face up and gradually also found the edge pieces of our project. We found one of the important corner pieces within the NAOF, and it was Principal Financial Auditor Tanja Ekroos. Tanja provided the development project with deep understanding of the audit of central government finances and a great deal of encouragement.
Together we can easily fit the puzzle pieces together
In our project, we developed an AI tool together with other NAOF employees. The aim of the tool is to assist our experts in auditing procurement. We decided to dismantle the structures of conventional development projects, because we wanted to bring coders and auditors around the same table. When the representatives of two different professions joined forces, the picture started to take shape rapidly.
We built the frames for our project with an open-minded and innovative attitude, without any knowledge of the outcome before launching the project. Tanja had a big influence on how we worked in our meetings. She was eager to improve her own understanding of data analytics, which was necessary in order to create an AI solution. She was also an excellent interpreter between the audit world and the coders, who were unfamiliar with auditing.
A completed picture is rewarding
What does it take for development projects to succeed? According to Tanja, a project that aims at an innovative outcome consists of elements not usually seen in traditional audit work. An open mindset plays a key role and makes it easier to believe that challenging tasks can succeed beyond expectations.
In agencies like the National Audit Office, project work is still relatively new. A project where the outcome is a big question mark at the outset is rather unusual compared with the NAOF’s conventional tasks. Free rein and permission to fail encouraged both the new and the old employees to bravely test new ways of working and to find opportunities to develop the NAOF’s operations.
In the same way as when assembling a puzzle, you can grow and learn new things when cooperating and developing the operations. What if we, instead of simple yes/no answers, focused in the future on considering difficult questions rather from the perspective of the opportunities they offer? By collaborating, we can achieve more.
The young professionals’ programme of the National Audit Office was launched on 1 May 2018 and ended at the end of 2019. The professionals participating in the programme worked in different parts of the organization, performing various development tasks.