Big data and data analytics are the future of audit

12 September 2019
  • But what is Data Analytics? It’s about using modern technology to enhance the analysis of data. It’s about getting better at collecting, cleansing, combining, analysing, interpreting and visualising data.

    The Wales Audit Office is in a unique and privileged position whereby we have access to a wealth of data held by public bodies. But we need to get better at the way we gather and use this data, by using the latest technology, to enhance the quality and efficiency of our work.

    Supported by funding from the National Assembly for Wales, we have set up a Data Analytics programme run by a small, multidisciplinary team of data analysts and auditors.

    It has been a steep learning curve! Our early work has involved learning the tools of the trade and building simple data tools to support our publications, such as The effectiveness of local planning authorities in Wales.

    Recently we progressed towards our ambition for more up to date, real-time reporting, with the release of our NHS Wales Finances Data Tool on the same day NHS Wales laid their 2018-19 accounts.

    We’re also working closely with our fellow UK audit institutions to share knowledge and ideas as we tread our data journey. We’ve partnered with the Northern Ireland Audit Office and Audit Scotland on the GovTech Catalyst Challenge to develop a data enabled approach to public sector audit.

    Now our focus is turning to our financial audit work. We are developing a vision for a data-enabled financial audit, which has four stages. The first stage, data ingestion, is the most difficult and accounts for approximately 80% of the effort! When we’ve got the data, we then need to process it into a format that it can be easily read, ensuring its integrity. Next, we would automate key audit tests, with our auditors evaluating the outcomes. Finally, visualisation of the results of the data analysis will pave the way for more effective, interactive reporting of our audit work.

    So what are the benefits of Data Analytics? We’ve identified five key benefits and we’re monitoring our progress against them:

    1. Increased confidence in our work
    2. Improved evidence base for our work
    3. Expanded range of analytical methods and visualisations
    4. Efficiencies, added value
    5. Our ideas are adopted by others

    If you want to know more about our data analytics work, or if you think you can share some of your learning with us, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us at



    About the author

    Helen Goddard is a Financial Audit Manager at the Wales Audit Office and is jointly leading the Data Analytics Programme