Remote audits can be done quickly, with no travel expenses, and they still provide a relatively good overview of a supplier’s systems & processes.
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, utilizing remote audits makes sense for many importers (who cannot travel abroad easily or where they or their auditors are not granted access to supplier factories).
While traditional on-site factory audits are still one of the most effective tools in an importer’s arsenal, remote audits are a great complement to them. Auditors can receive documents digitally, checking them in the office, and, with good 4G/5G phone coverage in most manufacturing areas of China, getting key staff on the phone for a video call where the auditor can see the factory and speak with them in detail has become easier than ever.
Remote audits can be done for different reasons, such as:
- When qualifying potential new suppliers
- The ongoing assessment of current suppliers
- Following up on corrective actions
In a remote audit, our auditor gains as much information as possible via email, in a shared folder, etc, tours the factory by video (with your supplier’s staff member showing the areas and processes they request to see), and also interviews other staff members via video call.
By doing so, and with factory cooperation, they’re able to get a good grasp of the ‘true picture of what’s happening in the factory without needing to go on site.
When conducting factory audits our regular procedure is for our auditor to be on-site so they’re able to obtain information about how things are being or will be done from many different staff members (to avoid having to take what the quality manager says for granted). They will also walk the factory floor and examine the processes, staff’s working conditions, material identification, and other supporting systems, and note any issues they may find that could cause you issues or lead to the manufacturer not being able to deliver your required quality, delivery times, etc.
During a remote audit, the auditor is not on-site, so the goal is to gain as much information and as clear an overview of what is happening in the factory as possible by closely examining documents, messages, images, and making video calls to speak to staff and view the factory.
This may include activities like:
- Interviewing a production supervisor to get a good grasp of what they do.
- Examining some physical evidence by video (i.e. ask for further information based on what is given to us, cross-checking facts, etc.)
Utilizing an auditor to remotely audit a shortlist of potential suppliers’ documents helps you to quickly whittle down the list to just one or two great options…
Here’s how the process would work:
- The sourcing team identifies 10 potential suppliers.
- A legal records check shows red flags with 2 of the suppliers, who are screened out.
- An initial request for documents, followed by a 20-min review, allows an auditor to classify each potential supplier into a ‘stereotype’ which is compared with the buyer’s ‘ideal factory profile’, and based on that information 3 suppliers are eliminated.
- The screening continues with a more in-depth document request & review (2 hours each), to give an initial score to each candidate.
- An on-site audit is finally performed on the 1 or 2 suppliers with the highest score, if that’s allowed. Otherwise, a remote auditor links with the factory and requests a very specific sequence of live video shots.
(Note: assessing a potential new supplier only from a remote location is risky, as they have more ways to misrepresent reality, hence why on-site audits are still recommended when possible.)
Some importers run an annual re-assessment program that all suppliers of a certain type of product have to go through. It will include the two audit types:
- A remote audit that reviews their corrective actions, the changes in their organization and environment, how their system & processes adapted… with a short interview of a representative from the quality department.
- An on-site audit* that focuses on actual practices and on the observation of key process steps, with some time reserved for going over the root causes of past issues that impacted the buyer and the countermeasures that were implemented.
*(This may be waived if the supplier’s quality and on-time shipping performance has been satisfactory.)
This is usually a part of the supplier ongoing management, but it may be spun off in its own program for suppliers with the highest number of serious problems.
A remote audit can help you in the following ways.
An initial document review, as a whole, can show some patterns or some trends. Some of the same issues may keep recurring, which indicates a serious lapse in the management system. Or many issues may have started to pop up around a certain period, and they might come from the same underlying changes at the factory (or one of their key suppliers).
Then, an interview can focus on some of the corrective actions, to dig a bit deeper and confirm understanding of the root cause(s) as well as the choice of appropriate countermeasures. Involving the process owners, rather than a quality manager, is key.
And, finally, if there is a doubt about the continued follow up of some countermeasures, or if the supplier needs some pressure to get their act together, an on-site audit can be planned.
Remote audits may offer the following benefits:
- Time and money are saved as the auditor doesn’t need to travel to the factory.
- Carbon emissions are reduced (good for companies who’re conscious of their carbon footprint).
- Certain staff may be more honest with an auditor if they’re chatting via phone away from supervisors.
- The auditor can often review documents more quickly with fewer distractions if they’re in their own office rather than in a factory.
How much does it cost?
Costs vary depending on the audit type – for example, the IFE remote audit is $229, but the remote Technical Quality Audit (TQA) or Technical & Social Audit (TSA) would each cost $445.
Remote audits are US$50 less than the corresponding on-site factory audit.