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What is the difference between ISO external and internal audit?

Updated: Dec 1, 2023


ISO audits play a crucial role in organizations by ensuring compliance with international standards and enhancing overall performance. There are two main types of ISO audits: external and internal. In this article, we will delve into the key differences between these two audit types, highlighting their definition, purpose, conducting process, benefits, limitations, and their implications for certification.

ISO External Audit

Definition and Purpose

An ISO external audit refers to an assessment conducted by an independent auditor who is not an employee of the organization being audited. The main purpose of an external audit is to evaluate the organization's compliance with ISO standards and verify conformity against external benchmarks.

Conducting an ISO External Audit

1. Selection of External Auditors

When selecting external auditors, certain criteria should be considered to ensure their competence and expertise. These criteria may include their knowledge of the industry, ISO standards, and relevant regulations.

2. Pre-Audit Preparations

Before conducting an on-site external audit, the auditor establishes contact with the organization to schedule the audit and requests relevant documentation, such as quality manuals, procedures, and records. They also review the applicable ISO standards to familiarize themselves with the requirements.

3. On-Site Audit Process

During the on-site audit, the auditor follows a systematic approach to gather evidence and assess conformity. This involves interviewing employees, reviewing documentation, and observing processes to ensure they align with ISO standards.

4. Documenting Audit Findings

The auditor reports and documents their findings, highlighting non-conformities and providing suggestions for improvement. This helps the organization identify areas that require corrective actions and enhances its overall performance.

Benefits and Limitations

1. Benefits of External Audits

External audits ensure impartiality and objectivity, as the auditors have no vested interest in the organization's operations. This enhances credibility and trust among stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, and regulatory bodies.

2. Limitations of External Audits

While external audits provide an unbiased perspective, they have limited understanding of internal processes. They might lack specific knowledge of the organization's industry, context, and unique challenges. Additionally, potential conflicts of interest could arise if the auditor has a connection with the organization or its stakeholders.

ISO Internal Audit

Definition and Purpose

An ISO internal audit is conducted by auditors who are employees of the organization being audited. The main purpose of internal audits is to monitor internal processes and controls, identify non-compliance, and uncover improvement opportunities.

Conducting an ISO Internal Audit

1. Selection of Internal Auditors

Internal auditors should possess specific criteria to ensure their effectiveness. These criteria may include their knowledge of ISO standards, auditing techniques, and their ability to remain impartial and objective.

2. Pre-Audit Preparations

Before conducting the internal audit, auditors develop an audit plan, outlining the scope and objectives. This helps provide a structured and focused approach towards achieving the objectives.

3. On-Site Audit Process

Internal audits are conducted using various methods, such as interviews, document reviews, and process observations. Auditors assess compliance with ISO standards and the effectiveness of implemented controls.

4. Reporting and Follow-up

Audit findings and observations are documented to provide a clear understanding of any non-conformities and improvement opportunities. Corrective actions are established to address the identified issues and promote continuous improvement within the organization.

Benefits and Limitations

1. Benefits of Internal Audits

Internal audits promote a culture of continuous improvement by regularly monitoring processes and identifying areas for enhancement. They provide increased control over processes and quality, leading to improved efficiency and effectiveness.

2. Limitations of Internal Audits

Internal auditors may have biases that can affect their objectivity, such as personal relationships or their familiarity with the organization's operations. Additionally, they possess extensive knowledge of the organization, which could limit their ability to identify potential areas of improvement.

Comparison between ISO External and Internal Audits

Distinctions in Focus and Scope

1. Focus of External Audits

External audits primarily assess compliance with ISO standards and verify conformity against external benchmarks. They aim to ensure organizations meet standardized requirements.

2. Focus of Internal Audits

Internal audits focus on monitoring internal processes and controls, looking for non-compliance and improvement opportunities within the organization itself.

Differences in Auditor Roles and Relationships

1. Roles of External Auditors

External auditors provide independent assessments and verifications. They have limited involvement in day-to-day operations and maintain objectivity throughout the auditing process.

2. Roles of Internal Auditors

Internal auditors ensure compliance and facilitate continuous improvement within the organization. They collaborate closely with internal stakeholders and possess in-depth knowledge of the organization's operations.

Reliance and Implications for Certification

1. Reliance on External Audits for Certification

External audits are often required for ISO certification. Organizations must undergo external audits to demonstrate compliance with ISO standards, which influences certification decisions.

2. Role of Internal Audit in Certification

Internal audits play a supportive role in preparing organizations for external audits. They help identify areas that require improvement, allowing organizations to maintain certification over time.

Summary and Conclusion

In summary, ISO external and internal audits differ in their definition, purpose, conduct, benefits, limitations, and implications for certification. Both audits are essential for organizations aiming to achieve ISO compliance and certification. External audits focus on compliance with ISO standards, while internal audits monitor internal processes and promote continuous improvement. By understanding and utilizing the strengths of both audits, organizations can enhance their performance and credibility.

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