The Commission on Audit (COA) is kicking off its advance towards the Fifth Industrial Revolution through the recent launch of a project that aimed to leverage technology in the conduct of its audits. Project MIKA-EL or Machine Intelligence, Knowledge-based Audit, and Experience Learning is an envisioned artificial intelligence (AI) that will work as an audit assistant, going through volumes of government records and helping auditors sort and process available digital data for faster and more efficient examination and audit.

COA Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo said the project’s focus is on maximizing the use of technology for audits. “With MIKA-EL, we intend to leverage technology in government audits. Technology is now so advanced that we can do everything with the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger. We are exploring the use of electronic evidence, continuous auditing techniques, advanced data analytics, and even artificial intelligence in the early detection of anomalous transactions,” he said.

“Using information technologies, Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) Philippines will be an efficient enabling partner for the development of public administration, and the role of big data in the activity of this SAI will make a difference,” the Chairperson added.

The project will increase auditor’s efficiency and is a welcome development for many in the light of the current pandemic where many auditors are severely limited in the conduct of their audits and the only viable way to move forward was through technology.

In two consecutive briefing-presentations held on 25 September 2020 via a teleconferencing platform, Project Lead Director Marlon R. Marquina of the Commission’s Information Technology Audit Office, Systems and Technical Services Sector conveyed before COA Officials how the project started and what it aimed to accomplish.

“Upon the instruction of the Chairperson, the STSS proceeded in the research and in exploring the possibility of using technology in public auditing. We are to assist the audit clusters in processing available digital data and to build capability in remote audit by end of 2021,” he said.

The presentation demonstrated two features of the MIKA-EL that are most useful for COA officials and auditors: the Uploading portal and the Dashboard. The Uploading portal is a web-based utility that allows audited agencies to electronically submit documents to auditors by sending them through the portal, which is very useful under the new normal. The portal may eventually solve the issue of storage space for documents in auditing units by slowly shifting to a paperless submission of documents to the auditor.

Meanwhile, the Dashboard displays initial findings derived from the analysis of audited agencies data that are collected across government entities nationwide, collated and cross-referenced among national government, government corporations and local government units. The objective of the AI audit-assistant is to bring to the attention of the concerned COA auditor those out-of-normal transactions for a closer look and earliest possible detection of fraud. The Dashboard also has a facility to make these findings transparent to the concerned Cluster Directors, Assistant Commissioners, and Commission Proper members regardless of their locations which is fitting under the new normal.

The Dashboard will also be available through different devices such as mobile phones and tablets for maximum accessibility.

The presentations ended with a forum where attendees fielded various questions to the project team. Concerns over the confidentiality and security of the data and information uploaded to MIKA-EL were addressed by highlighting the security design of the MIKA-EL and its segregation of information on the basis of user roles and the organizational hierarchy in the Commission, such that only those who are meant to see or work with the data and information, and their respective superiors, can have access to it.

At the end of the forum, Chairperson Aguinaldo noted that “we are moving towards the day where a lot of our transactions and finances are digital. I think one of the effects of the pandemic is to push this forward. This is really the first major step moving forward.”

The MIKA-EL website can be accessed at https://mika-el.coa.gov.ph/. This project was also showcased before the INCOSAI Russia 2019 and INTOSAI Working Group on Big Data 2020. – Original article contributed by Blaine Jenner A. Bilalat, State Auditor III, IT Audit Office, STSS