Last week, the world celebrated “Back to the Future Day,” an event inspired by the 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II, which envisioned what life might be like in 2015. Like many, I was captivated when I first saw this box-office hit, starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Its quirky vision of a flying hover board and a flying DeLorean turned out to be a mixed bag in terms of accurately predicting life in 2015, but all of the attention to the movie’s predictions over the past week inspired me to ponder how much internal audit has changed since the 1980s.
If I had been aboard the DeLorean with Marty and Doc when it landed in 2015, I would have been fascinated by all of the things they saw. And I am sure I would have been mildly curious how my profession might have evolved. Arguably, internal auditing had not changed much in the preceding quarter century, so I would not have expected seismic differences. I also could not have been more wrong.
Through most of the 1980s, the most sophisticated piece of technology in our internal audit department was an IBM Selectric typewriter. Late in the decade, we obtained our first IBM XT personal computer, with its impressive 5¼-inch floppy disc drive and an astounding 640 KB of memory. At only 32 pounds (not including the monochrome monitor and dot matrix printer), it is an understatement to say that we didn’t take technology out to conduct fieldwork very often.
As a newly minted CAE in 1989, I likely imagined a future in which technology would command a much greater presence in an internal audit department. But I’m sure I never thought that internal auditors would become so dependent on technology. The Internet and cellular phones, then the size of bricks, were still being pioneered.
While technology has driven the most visible transformational changes since the 1980s, it is certainly not the only thing that has made our profession virtually unrecognizable from three decades ago. Other notable changes:
The prospect of time travel has fascinated humans for centuries. It is always amusing to contemplate what life might be like in the future. As an internal auditor, I have witnessed extraordinary changes in our profession over the past four decades – much of which I could have never imagined. Who knows what the next three decades will bring for our profession. We can only imagine.
For more Back to the Future internal audit musings, check out Tom Mcleod’s blog on “what Internal Audit could have done differently and how that may have impacted on what we do today.”