Prof. Pavel Castka
University of Canterbury, New Zealand
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of rudimentary auditing technologies, particularly video conferencing. The adoption of technologies and digitalization of conformity assessment however continues to evolve rapidly. To understand the latest trends, our team of researchers from Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM), TU Berlin and Fraunhofer Institute in Germany and from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand conducted surveys in fourteen countries and collected data from over 1,300 conformity assessment bodies (CABs), including laboratories, certification bodies, and inspection bodies. What have we learnt?
CABs are largely optimistic about digitalization. In fact, nearly 90% of CABs in our sample view digitalization as an “opportunity” or “great opportunity”. That is a very positive starting point on what undoubtedly will be a long transformative journey.
At the moment, the digitalization efforts focus mainly on optimization of processes and improving efficiency. These are the primary goals for most CABs. Whilst CABs are positive about their progress, they acknowledge that the benefits of these efforts are not yet fully realized. CABs also report that their digitalization efforts are more advanced in comparison to other actors involved in conformity assessment (companies, accreditation bodies, regulatory bodies etc.). This means that we need to take a broader perspective on how we are going to digitalize conformity assessment. Digitalization is not only about CABs.
About 60% of CABs across the globe report using hybrid audits at the present time. Over 40% of CABs report that about 50% of their services happen remotely. 27% of CABs offer fully remote services. These figures suggest that remote audits (often as part of hybrid audits) will continue to be part of conformity assessment beyond the pandemic. The challenges identified during the early days of remote auding however still persist. About 47% of responding CABs still consider “lack of interpersonal relationships” as the primary problem. Other key hurdles include “data security” and “accessing comprehensive data for the audit”.
The latest digital technologies such as blockchain, use of robots, satellites, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and big data analytics are not yet widely used in conformity assessment. Only a few conformity assessment bodies use them at the present moment. However, a growing number of CABs are piloting these technologies and indicate that they will roll out these technologies within the next 2-5 years.
Finally, lack of financial resources and lack of qualified personnel are the biggest hurdles to the digital transformation, as reported by CABs in our sample. These findings signal that more attention needs to be paid to address the financing of digitalization, and we also need to have a serious discussion about the competencies, training needs and career pathways for conformity assessment professionals.
Our team continues to collect data from CABs across the world. The reports are available here and more reports (including a benchmarking study) will become available throughout 2023.
For more information on this topic, listen to episode 3 of the IAF/ILAC podcast Accreditation Matters, in which Mr. Castka discusses the role of technology in delivering trustworthy, effective, and valuable accredited conformity assessment with IAF CABAC Chair Marcus Long (IIOC) and IAF UAC Vice-Chair Sheronda Jeffries (TIA QuEST Forum).
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