"It's almost impossible for a company's Sarbanes-Oxley compliance efforts to be fully successful unless IT plays a major role," said David Oppenheim, a senior business advisor for Hackett.
Sarbanes-Oxley mandates that companies do more than just attest to the accuracy of their financial results. They must also prove that controls are in place, so that if the financials weren't accurate, the CEO and CFO would know. Given IT's responsibility for the acquisition, management, and operation of the information systems which form the basis of virtually all operations and financial management, it must take responsibility for making this happen."
"The data we see in the Hackett group is an average finance department, when you normalize for size of company, has hundreds of applications," said Allan Frank, president and co-founder of Answerthink, Hackett's parent company. "And if you've ever looked at a Rube Goldberg contraption, how some of these things are glued together -- spreadsheet hell in most finance organizations."
According to two recent Hackett research studies, the average billion-dollar company works with 2.7 ERP systems and 48 separate financial systems. Without IT's involvement in compliance, it will be impossible to get all of these systems wrapped up in a reliable reporting structure that offers the auditable visibility required under section 404, said Frank.
"I visit many CIOs on a weekly basis and what I am noticing is ... many IT departments having kind of a SWAT team project going on around Sarbanes," he said. "Now that might be part of a larger initiatives, but in a lot of cases, it's running in parallel" to the company's other compliance efforts.
This doesn't mean the company directors and board members are ignorant of IT's importance in SOX compliance, said Frank. It just means they need to wake up to the fact that everything needed for compliance will flow out of the systems IT controls and, therefore, the CIO will play a crucial role in their efforts.
Two Hackett reports, IT Involvement is Critical to the Success of Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance and Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance: It's Not Just for Finance, suggest steps CIOs can take to begin the process of working with the rest of the organization towards the ultimate goal of seamless compliance.
Key findings include: