Internal audit leaders in Saudi ramping up digital transformation

27 September 2023 4 min. read

Investing in digital transformation is high on the agenda of internal audit leaders in Saudi Arabia, with most efforts going to projects adopting advanced analytics and robotic process automation. This is according to a study by Protiviti and the Saudi Institute of Internal Auditors.

For their study, the researchers canvassed the views of leaders of internal audit departments, as well as finance and risk professionals that hold internal audit responsibilities. The survey was held among large Saudi Arabian organisations.

Driven by the ambition to add strategic value to the business, as well as capitalise on a rage of opportunities unfolding thanks to smart technology, internal audit functions are in flux. Around two third of respondents said that they will undertake transformation and innovation initiatives in the coming two years.

Internal audit leaders in Saudi ramping up digital transformation

“For the Internal Audit function to be relevant, agile, and act as an advisor to the company, they must move away from traditional boundaries to become strategic contributors and strengthen their position at the executive table,” states the report.

A major enabler of driving this transition is digital transformation. By tapping into the power of technology, Internal Audit functions can automate tasks, streamline activities and collaboration, use artificial intelligence to skim through datasets with lightning speed, better detect fraud, and much more.

Not surprising then, 80% of internal audit professionals told Protiviti and the Saudi Institute of Internal Auditors that they already have undertaken or plan to undertake multiple digital initiatives during the year. Advanced analytics, which helps functions improve insight and decision-making, and robotic process automation, which automates tedious activities freeing up people for more value-adding tasks, are the two most common initiatives pursued.

Notably, two much-hyped technologies, artificial intelligence (including machine learning), and process mining, feature lower on the priority list of internal audit leaders.

“The study highlights the increasing integration of artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, and data analytics into the Internal Audit process. These trends are reshaping how internal auditors approach risk assessment, control testing, and overall audit strategy across the region, allowing for more efficient and insightful decision-making,” said Sanjay Rajagopalan, Managing Director and Leader of the Internal Audit practice at Protiviti.

Further reading: Data analytics to become a game changer for internal audit.

Growing the digital maturity

While the intent is clearly there, progress still is in its (very) early stages, finds the report.

The researchers asked respondents to assess the digital maturity of their internal audit practices, leading to the conclusion that only 7% of functions rank as a ‘digital top performer’. In other words, Saudi internal audit functions still have a long road ahead to reaping the end-to-end benefits of cutting-edge digital adoption.

Darshan Mehta, Managing Director at Protiviti, said that growing maturity should be a central goal for practice leaders, and their top stakeholders. “The Internal Audit function is vital in providing assurance and advisory services to senior management in navigating the transformational journey with a major role for Audit Committees in achieving their strategic objectives.”

Adnan Zakariya, Country Managing Director of Protiviti in Saudi Arabia, emphasised that “As Saudi Arabia charts its course towards a prosperous future, aligning the role of internal audit with the Vision 2030 goals is a strategic imperative for all organisations.”

“By ensuring robust governance, identifying potential risks, and fostering accountability, internal audit professionals contribute to the Kingdom's path of sustainable growth and diversification across various sectors.”

A global consulting firm with offices in over 25 countries, Protiviti is one of the leading consultancies in the internal audit landscape. The firm partners with the local branches of the Institute of Internal Auditors in numerous countries.