Chief audit executives (CAEs) continue to pursue more effective practices and seek out ways to exert greater influence over strategy, according to a Grant Thornton survey of more than 330 audit executives from U.S. organizations. The third annual survey aims to better understand and articulate the current thinking of audit executives on a range of issues affecting the internal audit function.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for audit executives is the ongoing quest to rebalance traditional internal audit activities and methods, while becoming more strategic in mindset and progressive in work approach. Although they are headed in the right direction, our findings highlight opportunities and obstacles on the path toward adding ever-greater value:

  • Compliance-related activities are once again a significant focus of the audit plan
  • Internal audit can ease compliance challenges with a "one-to-many" control testing approach
  • CAEs say strategy execution is critical to organizational growth
  • Internal audit remains slow to adopt GRC technology, but data analytic tools are gaining ground
  • CAEs are still striving to be viewed as strategic partners adept at delivering business insights

This year's survey highlights positive movement in some areas key to value creation but underscores the need for improvements in others.

"The thinking is that chief audit executives need to do more as global business leaders who have a wealth of knowledge about an organization," says Warren Stippich, partner and Grant Thornton's national governance, risk, and compliance practice leader. "Internal auditors are in a really good position to challenge some of an organization's strategic drivers and point out strategic risks—maybe even more so than other executives in an organization."