How to Reduce Costs when Complying with SOX 404

Section 404 contains the most onerous and most costly requirements you’ll ever encounter in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). In this article, we?ll take a closer look at the salient points of this contentious piece of legislation as it relates to IT. We?ll also explain why companies are encountering difficulties in complying with it.

Then as soon as we’ve tackled the main issues of this section and identify the pitfalls of compliance, we can then proceed with a discussion of what successful CIOs have done to eliminate those difficulties and consequently bring down their organisation’s IT compliance costs. From this post, you can glean insights that can help you plan a cost-effective way of achieving IT compliance with SOX.

SOX 404 in a nutshell

Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, entitled Management Assessment of Internal Controls, requires public companies covered by the Act to submit an annual report featuring an assessment of their company?s internal controls.

This ?internal control report? should state management’s responsibility in establishing/maintaining an adequate structure and a set of procedures for internal control over your company?s financial reporting processes. It should also contain an assessment of the effectiveness of those controls as of the end of your most recent fiscal year.

Because SOX also requires the public accounting firm that conducts your audit reports to attest to and report on your assessments, you can’t just make baseless claims regarding the effectiveness of your internal controls. As a matter of fact, you are mandated by both SEC and PCAOB to follow widely accepted control frameworks like COSO and COBIT. This framework will serve as a uniform guide for the internal controls you set up, the assessments you arrive at, and the attestation your external auditor reports on.

Why compliance of Section 404 is costly

Regardless which of the widely acceptable control frameworks you end up using, you will always be asked to document and test your controls. These activities can consume a considerable amount of man-hours and bring about additional expenses. Even the mere act of studying the control framework and figuring out how to align your current practices with it can be very tricky and can consume precious time; time that can be used for more productive endeavours.

Of course, there are exceptions. An organisation with highly centralised operations can experience relative ease and low costs while implementing SOX 404. But if your organisation follows a largely decentralised operation model, e.g. if you still make extensive use of spreadsheets in all your offices, then you’ll surely encounter many obstacles.

According to one survey conducted by FEI (Financial Executives International), an organisation that carried out a series of SOX-compliance-related surveys since the first year of SOX adoption, respondents with centralised operations enjoyed lower costs of compliance compared to those with decentralised operations. For example, in 2007, those with decentralised operations spent 30.1 % more for compliance than those with centralised operations.

The main reason for this disparity lies in the disorganised and complicated nature of spreadsheet systems.

Read why spreadsheets post a burden when complying with SOX and other regulations.

Unfortunately, a large number of companies still rely heavily on spreadsheets. Even those with expensive BI (Business Intelligence) systems still use spreadsheets as an ad-hoc tool for data processing and reporting.

Because compliance with Section 404 involves a significant amount of fixed costs, smaller companies tend to feel the impact more. This has been highlighted in the ?Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Smaller Public Companies? published on April 23, 2006. In that report, which can be downloaded from the official website of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, it was shown that:

  • Companies with over $5 Billion revenues spent only about 0.06% of revenues on Section 404 implementation
  • Companies with revenues between $1B – $4.9B spent about 0.16%
  • Companies with revenues between $500M – $999M spent about 0.27%
  • Companies with revenues between $100M – $499M spent about 0.53%
  • Companies with revenues less than $100M spent a whopping 2.55% on Section 404

Therefore, not only can you discern a relationship between the size of a company and the amount that the company ends up spending for SOX 404 relative to its revenues, but you can also clearly see that the unfavourable impact of Section 404 spending is considerably more pronounced in the smallest companies. Hence, the smaller the company is, the more crucial it is for that company to find ways that can bring down the costs of Section 404 implementation.

How to alleviate costs of section 404

If you recall the FEI survey mentioned earlier, it was shown that organisations with decentralised operations usually ended up spending more for SOX 404 implementation than those that had a more centralized model. Then in the ?Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Smaller Public Companies?, it was also shown that public companies with the smallest revenues suffered a similar fate.

Can we draw a line connecting those two? Does it simply mean that large spending on SOX affects two sets of companies, i.e., those that have decentralised operations and those that are small? Or can there be an even deeper implication? Might it not be possible that these two sets are actually one and the same?

From our experience, small companies are less inclined to spend on server based solutions compared to the big ones. As a result, it is within this group of small companies where you can find a proliferation of spreadsheet systems. In other words, small companies are more likely to follow a decentralised model. Spreadsheets were not designed to implement strict control features, so if you want to apply a control framework on a spreadsheet-based system, it won’t be easy.

For example, how are you going to conduct testing on every single spreadsheet cell that plays a role in financial reporting when the spreadsheets involved in the financial reporting process are distributed across different workstations in different offices in an organisation with a countrywide operation?

It’s really not a trivial problem.

Based on the FEI survey however, the big companies have already found a solution – employing a server-based system.

Typical server based systems, which of course espouse a centralised model, already come with built-in controls. If you need to modify or add more controls, then you can do so with relative ease because practically everything you need to do can be carried out in just one place.

For instance, if you need to implement high availability or perform backups, you can easily apply redundancy in a cost-effective way – e.g. through virtualisation – if you already have a server-based system. Aside from cost-savings in SOX 404 implementation, server-based systems also offer a host of other benefits. Click that link to learn more.

Not sure how to get started on a cost-effective IT compliance initiative for SOX? You might want to read our post How To Get Started With Your IT Compliance Efforts for SOX.?

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User-Friendly RASCI Accountability Matrices

Right now, you’re probably thinking that’s a statement of opposites. Something dreamed up by a consultant to impress, or just to fill a blog page. But wait. What if I taught you to create order in procedural chaos in five minutes flat? ?Would you be interested then?

The first step is to create a story line ?

Let’s imagine five friends decide to row a boat across a river to an island. Mary is in charge and responsible for steering in the right direction. John on the other hand is going to do the rowing, while Sue who once watched a rowing competition will be on hand to give advice. James will sit up front so he can tell Mary when they have arrived. Finally Kevin is going to have a snooze but wants James to wake him up just before they reach the island.

That’s kind of hard to follow, isn’t it ?

Let’s see if we can make some sense of it with a basic RASCI diagram ?

Responsibility Matrix: Rowing to the Island
ActivityResponsibleAccountableSupportiveConsultedInformed
PersonJohnMarySueJamesKevin
RoleOarsmanCaptainConsultantNavigatorSleeper

?

Now let’s add a simple timeline ?

Responsibility Matrix: Rowing to the Island
?SueJohnMaryJamesKevin
Gives Direction??A??
Rows the Boat?R???
Provides AdviceS????
Announces Arrival??AC?
Surfaces From Sleep???CI
Ties Boat to Tree??A??

?

Things are more complicated in reality ?

Quite correct. Although if I had jumped in at the detail end I might have lost you. Here?s a more serious example.

rasci

?

There?s absolutely no necessity for you so examine the diagram in any detail, other to note the method is even more valuable in large, corporate environments. This one is actually a RACI diagram because there are no supportive roles (which is the way the system was originally configured).

Other varieties you may come across include PACSI (perform, accountable, control, suggest, inform), and RACI-VS that adds verifier and signatory to the original mix. There are several more you can look at Wikipedia if you like.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma has received much attention worldwide as a management strategy that is said to have brought about huge improvements and financial gains for such big-name companies as Allied Signal, General Electric (GE) and Motorola.

If you want to give your business the chance to attain the same resounding success, Six Sigma could be the method that will steer you towards that direction.

What is Six Sigma?

So what really is it? Six Sigma is a business management tool that was developed using the most effective quality improvement techniques from the last six decades. Basing its approach on discipline, verifiable data, and statistical calculations, Six Sigma aims to identify the causes of defects and eliminate them, thereby resulting in near-perfect products that meet or exceed customer’s satisfaction.

The core concept behind the Six Sigma method is that if an organisation can quantify the number of “defects” there are in a particular process, improvement activities can be implemented to eliminate them, and get as close to a “zero defects” scenario as possible. Defect here is defined as any process output that fails to meet customer specifications.

Six Sigma is also unique from other programs in that it calls for the creation of a special infrastructure of people within the organisation (“Champions“, “Black Belts“, “Green Belts“) who are to be expert in the methods.

Six Sigma Methodologies

When implementing Six Sigma projects, two methodologies are often employed. Although each method uses five phases each, these two are distinguished from each other using 5-letter acronyms and their specific uses.

DMAIC ? is the project methodology used to improve processes and maximise productivity of current business practices. The 5 letters stand for:

  • D ? Define (the problem)
  • M ? Measure (the main factors of the existing process)
  • A ??Analyse?(the information gathered to deter mine the causes of defects)
  • I ? Improve (the current process based on the analysis)
  • C ? Control (all succeeding processes so as to minimise additional defects)

DMADV – is the method most suitable if your business is looking to create new products or designs. The acronym stands for:

  • D ? Define (product goals as the consumer market demands)
  • M ? Measure (and identify product capabilities and risks)
  • A ??Analyse?(to create the best possible design)
  • D ? Design (the product or process details)
  • V ? Verify (the design)

How does Six Sigma differ from other quality programs?

If you think that Six Sigma is just another one of those business strategies that produce more hype than actual results, think again. Six Sigma uses three key concepts that sets it apart from other business management methods.

  • It is strictly a data-driven approach, where assumptions and guesswork do not figure in the decision making.
  • It focuses on achieving quantifiable financial results ? the bottom line ($) ? as much as giving emphasis on customer satisfaction.
  • It requires strong management leadership, while at the same time creating a role for every individual in the organisation.

Is Six Sigma right for your business?

While many other organisations such as Sony, Nokia, American Express, Xerox, Boeing, Kodak, Sun Micro-systems and many other blue chip companies have followed suit in adopting Six Sigma, the truth is, any company — whether you have a large manufacturing corporation, or a small business specialising in customer service.

Certainly, there is a lot more to Six Sigma than what you can probably absorb in one sitting or reading.

With our wide range of business management consultancy services, we can help you understand the Six Sigma method in the context of your business. We can also help you establish your improvement goals, set up your program, and train your own team of “champions” who can lead in implementing your Six Sigma goals.

Find out more about our Quality Assurance services in the following pages:

Enhance and Streamline IT Processes

You can’t be assured of a competitive advantage by just buying the latest technology. Your top competitor can easily match that feat by simply spending as much on the same tools. To be always at least a step ahead, you’ll need to perform tweaks on your IT processes aligned with the strengths of your organisation.

IT solutions are like a pair of sneakers. If they fit perfectly, they’ll help you run the extra mile. If they don’t, you can develop blisters faster than you can reach a single mile.

In all our efforts to enhance and streamline your IT processes, we’ll start by looking at all your logistical advantages, limitations, and objectives to determine which technologies suit you best. Once we’ve obtained them, we’ll perform the appropriate customisation to make them perform optimally under the conditions unique to your organisation.

Below are just some of the enhancements we can apply to your organisation:

  • Put up application and systems monitoring to identify bottlenecks and underutilised resources in your IT infrastructure.
  • Propose areas where you can plough back the generated savings to further improve your ROI.
  • Take scalability into consideration when pushing for certain IT investments to ensure that the IT solution will work for your organisation not only today but even as your organisation grows.
  • Introduce mobile-capable enterprise-class IT solutions that allow seamless collaboration between team members working at different locations on the globe so that pressing matters can be resolved and decisions can be arrived at as quickly as possible.
  • Integrate Business Intelligence into your IT system so that massive collections of data can be processed into insightful information which managers can draw on to make intuitive decisions.
  • Introduce avant-garde solutions, like virtualisation and infrastructure sharing, which may require large scale changes but can also significantly reduce operational costs.

Find out how we can increase your efficiency even more:

Contact Us

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