With defense spending on auditing approaching a billion dollars a year, it was clear it would take a decade or more to catch up to the audit standards of private companies. But no single company or even entire industry was spending this much money on auditing. And remarkably, the Defense Department seemed intent on doing the same thing year after year, just with more people and with a few more tools and processes to get incrementally better. It dawned on me that if we tried to look over the horizon, the department could audit faster, cheaper, and more effectively by inventing the future tools and techniques rather than repeating the past.

Nothing in our charter asked the advisory board to invent the future. But I found myself asking, “What if we could?” What if we could provide the defense department with new technology, new approaches to auditing, analytics practices, audit research, and standards, all while creating audit and data management research and a new generation of finance applications and vendors?

The Pentagon Once Led Business Innovation
I reminded my fellow advisory board members that in 1959, at the dawn of the computer age, the Defense Department was the largest user of computers for business applications.

By investing 10 percent of the existing auditing budget over the next few years, these activities would create a defense audit center of excellence that would fund academic centers for advanced audit research, standup “future of audit” programs that would create new 5-10 startups each year, be the focal point for government an industry finance and audit standards, and create public-private partnerships rather than mandates.

Spinning up these activities up would dramatically reduce the department’s audit costs, standardize its financial management environment, and provide confidence in their budget, auditability, and transparency. And as a bonus, it would create a new generation of finance, audit and data management startups, funded by private capital.

The Road Not Taken
I was in awe of my fellow advisory board members. They had spent decades in senior roles in finance and accounting in both the public and private sectors. Yet, when I pitched this idea, they politely listened to what I had to say and then moved on to their agenda – providing the DoD with Incremental improvements.

At the time I was disappointed, but not surprised. An advisory board is only as good as what it’s being chartered and staffed to do. If they are being asked to provide a 10 percent incremental advice, they’ll do so. But if they’re asked for revolutionary i.e. 10x advice, they can change the world. But that requires a different charter, leadership, people, innovation, and imagination.

Lessons Learned