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Using external consultants to perform internal audits

Over the last 10 years I have audited many small companies that hired consultants to perform their internal audits for them, so that they could meet their ISO 9001 audit requirements.  Using an external consultant to reboot a failing system can be highly beneficial to overwhelmed staff. However, while auditor objectivity is indeed enhanced by using external auditors, someone internal must be responsible for ensuring complete follow through of any findings. The level of long term effectiveness is dependent on company culture and management commitment to improve the QMS.  I have rarely seen it work for small companies over the long term, for a couple of reasons: Firstly, the reason internal audits cannot be completed by existing trained in-house auditors should be evaluated. If management views internal audits as `only beneficial to obtain a certificate and therefore time has not been made available for internal staff to perform the audits, the impact of external auditors will be minimal since the purpose is conformity not improvement. If instead management has determined that best practice input could be obtained by external auditors, then the follow through will probably be different, and even though the auditor many not know every detail of the company, their expertise will be a valuable asset to the organization. Secondly, responsibility and effectiveness of activities following any external audit must be evaluated.  If  (as is more commonly the case in smaller companies) it's easy for everyone to go back to business as usual after the external auditor/consultant leaves the premises... the typical long term result is repeat or similar findings recurring during each subsequent visit by the external auditor - a prime indicator of lack of internal ownership for the findings.  If (ideally) there is an internal driver responsible for implementing corrections and corrective actions, and evaluating effectiveness of those actions (a critical element to closing out audit findings), then using the expertise of external auditors to drive improvement of your QMS will likely be highly beneficial.


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