IT being the foundation of processes and information enabling the enterprise came under the scanner; it was not enough to demonstrate that data integrity and consistency is maintained, it was also important to provide evidence that others in the organization did not violate process that could result in potential loss of control. Thus as the custodian of the physical information assets and the administrator of the logical processes, the IT organization had to fend off auditors of all types at unnerving frequencies.
Consultants thrived on FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) factor as non-compliance had severe ramifications for the CIO, CFO, COO and the CEO. Perceptions of risk heightened the tension with any risk classified as high needed immediate attention. Tolerance levels of Boards tended to zero and Risk Committees hounded the functional heads to comply by the written word, who turned to the CIO to address the sane and inane collectively.
Whether it is Internal, Statutory or Third Party Audit, the basic intent is to review process execution consistently against good practice and compliance to stated policy. Additional frameworks on quality, process maturity, security and others provide the enterprise incremental value over competitors. Policy once stated requires alignment with the real world to ensure relevance; thus periodic review is critical. When regulatory restrictions impose process change like SOX or PCI-DSS, HIPAA, the enterprise has limited choice but to comply. Some industries are more regulated than others; some companies pride themselves on their GRC frameworks, the rest follow the path of least resistance.
So what are the strategies the CIO can adopt to ensure that s/he does not get beaten up at every audit ? CIOs should partner with their Internal Audit functions to work with each functional head and process owner to review and validate not just the process, but also the management of exceptions. If Internal Audit is unable to provide the necessary attention, seek external help; but do not ignore it. S/he should create clear accountability and transparency of every task across the cross-functional teams involved in the execution. It is important to note that people are the weakest link of any process discipline. Internal process champions or BPM experts are invaluable in the quest towards excellence.
Compliance is non-negotiable; our shareholders and regulators expect every part of the enterprise to conform to the laid down policies and principles. Good corporate governance expects no exceptions; despite all the controls we still come across black swans that disrupt the equilibrium and raise the difficulty level. Unfortunately the enterprise CXOs and the CIO have no choice but to run faster to stay in the same place.