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The general definition of an audit is a planned and documented activity performed by qualified personnel to determine by investigation, examination, or evaluation of objective evidence, the adequacy and compliance with established procedures, or applicable documents, and the effectiveness of implementation.  The term may refer to audits in accounting, internal controls, quality management, project management, water management, and energy conservation.
Auditing is defined as a systematic and independent examination of data, statements, records, operations and performances (financial or otherwise) of an enterprise for a stated purpose. In any auditing the auditor perceives and recognizes the propositions before him for examination, collects evidence, evaluates the same and on this basis formulates his judgment which is communicated through his audit report. The purpose is then to give an opinion on the adequacy of controls (financial and otherwise) within an environment they audit, to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of risk management, control, and governance processes.
Auditing is a vital part of accounting. Traditionally, audits were mainly associated with gaining information about financial systems and the financial records of a company or a business.
Financial audits are performed to ascertain the validity and reliability of information, as well as to provide an assessment of a system's internal control. The goal of an audit is to express an opinion of the person / organization / system (etc.) in question, under evaluation based on work done on a test basis.
Due to constraints, an audit seeks to provide only reasonable assurance that the statements are free from material error. Hence, statistical sampling is often adopted in audits. In the case of financial audits, a set of financial statements are said to be true and fair when they are free of material misstatements – a concept influenced by both quantitative (numerical) and qualitative factors. But recently, the argument that auditing should go beyond just true and fair is gaining momentum. And the US Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has come out with a concept release on the same.
Cost accounting is a process for verifying the cost of manufacturing or producing of any article, on the basis of accounts measuring the use of material, labor or other items of cost. In simple words, the term, cost audit means a systematic and accurate verification of the cost accounts and records, and checking for adherence to the cost accounting objectives. According to the Institute of Cost and Management Accountants of Pakistan, a cost audit is "an examination of cost accounting records and verification of facts to ascertain that the cost of the product has been arrived at, in accordance with principles of cost accounting."
An audit must adhere to generally accepted standards established by governing bodies. These standards assure third parties or external users that they can rely upon the auditor's opinion on the fairness of financial statements, or other subjects on which the auditor expresses an opinion.
The definition for Audit and Assurance Standard AAS-1 by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI): “Auditing is defined as a systematic and independent examination of data, statements, records, operations and performance (financial or otherwise) of an enterprise for a stated purpose. In any auditing situation, the auditor perceives and recognises the proposition before him for examination, collects evidence, evaluates the same and on this basis formulates a judgment which is communicated through an audit report. An audit is an independent examination of financial information of an entity, irrespective of its size and form, when such examination is conducted with a view of expressing an opinion thereon.”
In US audits of publicly traded companies are governed by rules laid down by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), which was established by Section 404 of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002. Such an audit is called an integrated audit, where auditors, in addition to an opinion on the financial statements, must also express an opinion on the effectiveness of a company's internal control over financial reporting, in accordance with PCAOB Auditing Standard No. 5.
There are also new types of integrated auditing becoming available that use unified compliance material (see the unified compliance section in Regulatory compliance). Due to the increasing number of regulations and need for operational transparency, organizations are adopting risk-based audits that can cover multiple regulations and standards from a single audit event. This is a very new but necessary approach in some sectors to ensure that all the necessary governance requirements can be met without duplicating effort from both audit and audit hosting resources.
The purpose of an assessment is to measure something or calculate a value for it. Although the process of producing an assessment may involve an audit by an independent professional, its purpose is to provide a measurement rather than to express an opinion about the fairness of statements or quality of performance.
Auditors of financial statements can be classified into two categories:
The most used external audit standards are the US GAAS of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants; and the ISA International Standards on Auditing developed by the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board of the International Federation of Accountants.
Safety, security, information systems performance, and environmental concerns are increasingly the subject of audits. There are now audit professionals who specialize in security audits and information systems audits. With nonprofit organizations and government agencies, there has been an increasing need for performance audits, examining their success in satisfying mission objectives.
Quality audits are performed to verify conformance to standards through review of objective evidence. A system of quality audits may verify the effectiveness of a quality management system. This is part of certifications such as ISO 9001. Quality audits are essential to verify the existence of objective evidence showing conformance to required processes, to assess how successfully processes have been implemented, and to judge the effectiveness of achieving any defined target levels. Quality audits are also necessary to provide evidence concerning reduction and elimination of problem areas, and they are a hands-on management tool for achieving continual improvement in an organization.
To benefit the organization, quality auditing should not only report non-conformance and corrective actions but also highlight areas of good practice and provide evidence of conformance. In this way, other departments may share information and amend their working practices as a result, also enhancing continual improvement.
Projects can undergo 2 types of Project audits:
An energy audit is an inspection, survey and analysis of energy flows for energy conservation in a building, process or system to reduce the amount of energy input into the system without negatively affecting the output(s).
An operations audit is an examination of the operations of the client's business. In this audit the auditor thoroughly examines the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of the operations with which the management of the entity (client) is achieving its objective. The operational audit goes beyond the internal controls issues since management does not achieve its objectives merely by compliance of satisfactory system of internal controls. Operational audits cover any matters which may be commercially unsound. The objective of operational audit is to examine Three E's, namely: Effectiveness – doing the right things with least wastage of resources. Efficiency – performing work in least possible time. Economy – balance between benefits and costs to run the operations