“Pass on all hills and curves.”  ~Author Unknown

The concept of the audit, to some, may feel relatively new and immature. However, financial statements have been audited since the 1800s and regulated IT Audits got a footing in the 1970s. The challenge in making sense of audits is in the approach: are you driven by compliance and audits, or are you driving the audits and compliance?

In my experience, compliance and audits are more journey – and less road trip. The challenge in preparing for this journey is the murky starting point, winding roads and changing conditions that must be successfully navigated. And when finished, the reward is taking another lap.

Developing a “Culture of Compliance”

Day in and day out those who work in finance adhere to basic principles that over time have simply become habit. These basic principles are in part derived from the understanding that they will be audited against their actions. We, as IT experts, tend to have much more of a cowboy approach to getting work accomplished.  Now that IT is being held accountable we need to instill the same ideology of daily work ethics that is second nature in finance departments.

This concept of cultural development is awkward at best when considered in bits and bytes. While IT staff are experts in their fields, they often have difficulty in understanding why perceived red tape (commonly experienced as additional process to get code into production). For many, it just doesn’t make sense and feels more like an obstacle than a useful control.

Building the culture of compliance takes time, dedication, education, and influences some interesting debates. Yet the journey is rewarding and the results proof positive of the investment. Over the course of the next year, I’ll share my experiences learned over the last two decades to ease the journey for everyone.

Sell the concept, reap the benefits

Management responsibility – wait for it –  “must be driven from the top down.“ It’s quoted a lot, and for good reason. And I agree. The outcome of IT assessments, sometimes in combination with finance audits, has a direct impact on the bottom line.

Who would you rather do business with: a company who has process deficiencies and stated exceptions or one that passes the litmus test of standardized IT auditing?

Positive results are an endorsement that the organization is operating efficiently and more importantly securely. This endorsement should be used by your sales and marketing departments at every opportunity.

Building Support

Step one: find the right internal sponsor.  This sponsor should be the liaison to any audit firm partner. While IT management is needed to explain details of process, systems, and applications, they should not be on point. Often the best bet is a leader in finance. Building on years of experience, savvy finance management can simply save money.

Of course there are exceptions; mature IT organizations can fulfill this role with the understanding that it is critical to update senior finance management throughout any audit.

Should IT audit and compliance be managed internally?

This question needs to be asked regardless of the size of the organization. It is common practice to hire external audit firms (opposing) to prepare your organization for an IT audit. Independent assessments can help identify process deficiencies, help with documentation and, more importantly, ensure a smooth audit when it counts.

Quite simply, if you need to bring an organization into “compliance” within a predefined time frame external help may be your only option. If the decision (or only choice) is to manage this internally, then dedicated staff is essential. This team needs the expertise in systems, applications, security and perhaps more importantly the ability to communicate and educate others on why IT auditing is so important. We’ll explore this more in the future (and quite frankly, I’ve seen Michael in action, and he is the master of this  — and he makes it easy for others to do it, too).

One of the best tangible outcomes of this whole process is detailed documentation. Interesting how  there is never time to develop or update documentation; now the excuses are kicked and a valid reason exists. These policies, standards, and other documents are the foundation of the IT department, the keys to success.

What’s in it for me?

Develop this “Culture of Compliance” within the IT department and witness creative solutions being developed with the base principles of security and with forethought into what auditors really want, Who, What, When, and How!

Sound off

How have you developed a culture of compliance in your organization? Or has your compliance car skidded off the road along the path? Engage in the discussion in the comments and we’ll work on getting there together.

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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