2020 Vision

I just did one of those go-back-and-re-read-a-book-you-first-read-years-ago-to-see-if-it’s-still-as-wonderful-as-you-remember things. It didn’t go well, but that’s not the point. The book is called The Year 2000 and is a collection of short stories commissioned in 1970 to take a stab at what the world might look like in the year 2000.

It got me thinking about predictions.

There is something about round-number years that compel people to try and make longer range projections. So last year (that would be 2010 in case you, like me, have been so busy you kind of forgot the decade is quickly moving forward), I saw a lot of different people write a lot of different articles about what things might look like in 2020. Internal audit was replete with similar predictions on what the next decade might look like for both the profession and the work we do. They all seemed fine at the time.

But now, to be quite honest, I don’t really remember what any of them actually said. And it makes me realize that what I saw was, more than likely, uniformly bland, boring, and barely inspiring. I’m not saying the predictions were necessarily bad; nor am I saying that they would never happen; nor am I saying they were in any way “wrong”. In fact, that may be the root of the problem. I didn’t see a single prediction that seemed to be so “out there” I thought it couldn’t happen. In other words, I don’t believe I saw a single prediction/vision for internal audit that really challenged us to strive for something truly great.

The short stories in the collection I read missed it on almost all their predictions. (For example, there wasn’t a one that even came close to visualizing the changes brought about by computers generally and the internet specifically.) But guessing right isn’t the point. The point is to stretch your mind to see if there is something else out there.

We hear predictions about auditing becoming stronger partners with the business and increasing the professionalism of internal auditors and broadening our influence. But it feels to me like we are expressing predictions that are couched in the fear that we might go too far.

If we really believe we are an important part of every company’s success and it is our role to help our companies succeed, then why aren’t we predicting things for internal audit like “expanding the recognition of internal audit as a business partner and as a profession to such a degree that individuals with internal audit experience are CEOs for 10% of all companies”? How about a prediction such as “constantly updated internal audit standards are basic training to all employees in every company”? How about predicting “new innovations in audit tools and techniques will be developed that allow auditors to provide twice the capacity of their current output, yet companies will still continue to increase their audit staffs because the value provided by internal audit is second only to that of profitability”? (Danged if I know what those innovations are, but visions and predictions are about stretching the limits of the known.)

And why is it that, in spite of trying to stretch myself, I still feel like I am not visioning at a big enough level?

We are a great profession. (Unlike Groucho, I would belong to any club that would accept me as a member.) But we have to break out of our molds and see a future that is much more than we first imagine. I cannot believe that our glorious future will amount to nothing more than being more professional, finding new risks, and helping support the company’s efforts in governance. These are perfectly fine, but they are not concepts that inspire. It is only if we are willing to predict something greater for ourselves that we will be able to reach the greatness I believe we are capable of.

And that is the challenge I now throw to every auditor out there. Stretching your mind and your expectations, what types of serious predictions might you make for internal audit in the year 2020?


Posted on May 13, 2011 by Mike Jacka

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