Assessments are a key feature of the journey to becoming a professional accountant. In Bulgaria, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Bulgaria (ICPAB) is proud of its mandate to organize and conduct the examinations of candidates attempting to obtain the diploma of Certified Public Accountant and the qualification of Registered Auditor. In line with IES 6 on the assessment of professional competencies, the objective of the ICPAB examinations is to assess and confirm that candidates have the necessary theoretical knowledge and practical skills to practice as a Certified Public Accountant. There are four examinations for the qualification: accounting, commercial law, tax and social security law, and independent financial audit.
ICPAB is committed to ensuring that the examinations are reliable, impartial, and transparent. In the past, this often meant that examination preparation and development was an extremely time-consuming, complex, and lengthy administrative process, which involved the experts of the examination committees being on-site at the ICPAB office under strict and confidential measures.
In 2021, after a cost-benefit analysis of the exam preparation process, ICPAB determined that there were great benefits in digitalizing the process and moving to a fully cloud-based compilation and review of exam questions. The analysis indicated digitalization would make the preparation process easier for committee members who volunteer their time to this important effort and offer greater protection, security, and transparency. ICPAB partnered with a software development firm to create this project plan:
The firm was then commissioned to create—specifically for ICPAB—an innovative digital product that would provide participantswith secure and reliable remote access to a virtual workspace during the exam-writing process. This reduced the inevitably cumbersome process of coordinating time for collaborative on-site work by exam committees and provided an effective and efficient workflow in a secure digital environment.
The workspace was hosted and secured in a cloud service continuously updated by the vendo. Using up-to-date technology and antivirus software made the application as secure as possible. To add further security, participants accessing the workspace were required to use a dedicated username, password, and multi-factor authentication (MFA). As an additional security measure against unauthorised dissemination, a technical restriction on text copying and printing, as well as a final encryption of the information files, were introduced.
To ensure independence, objectivity, and confidentiality of information in the work process, separate user roles with defined access levels were developed. Composing the exam questions and reviewing the exam problems were divided into two separate tracks and technically independent applications. For example, ICPAB created the following roles with the corresponding access rights:
- Preparer - only able to access the case studies that they are working on.
- Reviewer – able to access both the database from the previous exam session and new case studies created by the "Preparers” with editing rights.
- Committee members – able to access and edit all materials for the respective exam.
- Administrator 1 – able to create the work space and users with corresponding roles and can generate a report of who, when and what was done in the application.
- Administrator 2 - has temporary access to the prepared exam database and can import it to the exam system to conduct a physical exam.
The system was launched in July of 2022 and the testing process went smoothly. The virtual workspace received positive feedback from committee members who noted that working remotely on examination questions and case studies saved time and resources, and reduced stress.
As part of next steps and best practice, ICPAB will review and assess the process again for improvements. In the meantime, though, the virtual workspace for exam preparation is absolutely viewed as a step forward in the right direction.
ICPAB knows that today’s society has high demands and expectations for the qualifications of certified public accountants and registered auditors. Our organization strives to meet these expectations by preparing professionals with high-quality expertise, as well as ethical and technical training. In pursuing this mission, it is necessary to think not only about the content of exams but also about the processes themselves so as to reduce the cost in terms of time and financial resources. ICPAB believes that digitalization is the best path forward for process enhancements.
More on PAO Digital Transformation
There are huge opportunities for PAOs to advance their own organization’s success and our global professional community. Our journeys are unique, yet our experiences not uncommon. IFAC’s PAO Digital Readiness Assessment Tool is providing a platform for future synergies and transparency among PAOs as they start exploring technology solutions, new certifications, and training. Patience and tenacity are necessary, but digitalization will unlock new power for PAOs.
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