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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Finding the Best Structure for Your Enterprise Development Team

An enterprise development team is a small group of dedicated specialists. They may focus on a new business project such as an IoT solution. Members of microteams cooperate with ideas while functioning semi-independently. These self-managing specialists are scarce in the job market. Thus, they are a relatively expensive resource and we must optimise their role.

Organisation?Size and Enterprise Development Team Structure

Organisation structure depends on the size of the business and the industry in which it functions. An enterprise development team for a micro business may be a few freelancers burning candles at both ends. While a large corporate may have a herd of full-timers with their own building. Most IoT solutions are born out of the efforts of microteams.

In this regard, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg blazed the trail with Microsoft and Facebook. They were both college students at the time, and both abandoned their business studies to follow their dreams. There is a strong case for liberating developers from top-down structures, and keeping management and initiative at arm?s length.

The Case for Separating Microteams from the?Organisation

Microsoft Corporation went on to become a massive corporate, with 114,000 employees, and its founder Bill Gates arguably one of the richest people in the world. Yet even it admits there are limitations to size. In Chapter 2 of its Visual Studio 6.0 program it says,

‘today’s component-based enterprise applications are different from traditional business applications in many ways. To build them successfully, you need not only new programming tools and architectures, but also new development and project management strategies.?

Microsoft goes on to confirm that traditional, top-down structures are inappropriate for component-based systems such as IoT solutions. We have moved on from ?monolithic, self-contained, standalone systems,? it says, ?where these worked relatively well.?

Microsoft’s model for enterprise development teams envisages individual members dedicated to one or more specific roles as follows:

  • Product Manager ? owns the vision statement and communicates progress
  • Program Manager ? owns the application specification and coordinates
  • Developer ? delivers a functional, fully-complying solution to specification
  • Quality Assurer ? verifies that the design complies with the specification
  • User Educator ? develops and publishes online and printed documentation
  • Logistics Planner ? ensures smooth rollout and deployment of the solution

Three Broad Structures for Microteams working on IoT Solutions

The organisation structure of an enterprise development team should also mirror the size of the business, and the industry in which it functions. While a large one may manage small microteams of employee specialists successfully, it will have to ring-fence them to preserve them from bureaucratic influence. A medium-size organisation may call in a ?big six? consultancy on a project basis. However, an independently sourced micro-team is the solution for a small business with say up to 100 employees.

The Case for Freelancing Individuals versus Functional Microteams

While it may be doable to source a virtual enterprise development team on a contracting portal, a fair amount of management input may be necessary before they weld into a well-oiled team. Remember, members of a micro-team must cooperate with ideas while functioning semi-independently. The spirit of cooperation takes time to incubate, and then grow.

This is the argument, briefly, for outsourcing your IoT project, and bringing in a professional, fully integrated micro-team to do the job quickly, and effectively. We can lay on whatever combination you require of project managers, program managers, developers, quality assurers, user educators, and logistic planners. We will manage the micro-team, the process, and the success of the project on your behalf while you get on running your business, which is what you do best.

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Spreadsheet Woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and Other Regulations

End User Computing (EUC) or end User Developed Application (UDA) systems like spreadsheets used to be ideal ad-hoc solutions for data processing and financial reporting. But those days are long gone.

Today, due to regulations like the:

  • Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act,
  • Dodd-Frank Act,
  • IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards),
  • E.U. Data Protection Directive,
  • Basel II,
  • NAIC Model Audit Rules,
  • FAS 157,
  • yes, there?s more ? and counting

a company can be bogged down when it tries to comply with such regulations while maintaining spreadsheet-reliant financial and information systems.

In an age where regulatory compliance have become part of the norm, companies need to enforce more stringent control measures like version control, access control, testing, reconciliation, and many others, in order to pass audits and to ensure that their spreadsheets are giving them only accurate and reliable information.

Now, the problem is, these control measures aren’t exactly tailor-made for a spreadsheet environment. While yes, it is possible to set up a spreadsheet and EUC control environment that utilises best practices, this is a potentially expensive, laborious, and time-consuming exercise, and even then, the system will still not be as foolproof or efficient as the regulations call for.

Testing and reconciliation alone can cost a significant amount of time and money to be effective:

  1. It requires multiple testers who need to test spreadsheets down to the cell level.
  2. Testers will have to deal with terribly disorganized and complicated spreadsheet systems that typically involve single cells being fed information by other cells in other sheets, which in turn may be found in other workbooks, or in another folder.
  3. Each month, an organisation may have new spreadsheets with new links, new macros, new formulas, new locations, and hence new objects to test.
  4. Spreadsheets rarely come with any kind of supporting documentation and version control, further hampering the verification process.
  5. Because Windows won’t allow you to open two Excel files with the same name simultaneously and because a succession of monthly-revised spreadsheets separated by mere folders but still bearing the same name is common in spreadsheet systems, it would be difficult to compare one spreadsheet with any of its older versions.

But testing and reconciliation are just two of the many activities that make regulatory compliance terribly tedious for a spreadsheet-reliant organisation. Therefore, the sheer intricacy of spreadsheet systems make examining and maintaining them next to impossible.

On the other hand, you can’t afford not to take these regulations seriously. Non-compliance with regulatory mandates can have dire consequences, not the least of which is the loss of investor confidence. And when investors start to doubt the management’s capability, customers will start to walk away too. Now that is a loss your competitors will only be too happy to gain.

Learn more about our server application solutions and discover a better way to comply with regulations.

More Spreadsheet Blogs


Spreadsheet Risks in Banks


Top 10 Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets – obstacles to compliance in the Healthcare Industry


How Internal Auditors can win the War against Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Reporting – No Room in your company in an age of Business Intelligence


Still looking for a Way to Consolidate Excel Spreadsheets?


Disadvantages of Spreadsheets


Spreadsheet woes – ill equipped for an Agile Business Environment


Spreadsheet Fraud


Spreadsheet Woes – Limited features for easy adoption of a control framework


Spreadsheet woes – Burden in SOX Compliance and other Regulations


Spreadsheet Risk Issues


Server Application Solutions – Don’t let Spreadsheets hold your Business back


Why Spreadsheets can send the pillars of Solvency II crashing down

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How to be cleaner and greener indoors

The supply of water on planet earth is finite hence the need to conserve this precious resource. Water is a utility that is often used in and outdoors and for that reason, water conservation activities should be undertaken everywhere.

Get greener everywhere
Water saving can be achieved through various ways. Of utmost importance, fixing leaks should be undertaken in all areas. Small household leaks can add up to gallons of water lost every day. It is therefore important to check all water system fixtures and ensure that there are no leakages.

Greener bathroom habits
Turning off taps- this should be practised in the bathroom especially while shaving and brushing teeth. One could also consider using showers instead of baths since showers use less water and get into the habit of taking shorter showers.

Clean and green dishes
The kitchen is one of the areas where a lot of water is used. Some of the ways through which water can be conserved in the kitchen are:

  • Use of basins when washing dishes by hand
  • Using a dishwasher – when using the dish washer, it is important to make sure it’s fully loaded. Scraping plates instead of rinsing before loading it into the dishwasher will also go a long way in the conservation of the valuable commodity called water

Green your laundry and earn green bucks
The other area where water saving can be made is the laundry room. Washing only full loads of laundry will ensure that your washing machine is running at full efficiency hence you will be able to maximise your washer for energy efficiency. Always ensure you use the appropriate water level or load size selection on the washing machine. All these will not only save water but energy too and since savings are earnings you can smile all the way to the bank where some green bucks will be credited to your account.

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