Top Priorities for Internal Audit in Telecommunications

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1 Top Priorities for Internal Audit in Telecommunications Assessing Telecommunications Industry Results from the 2012 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey

2 TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES OR COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE PROVIDERS ARE FOCUSED ON OTT (OVER THE TOP), M2M (MACHINE TO MACHINE), CLOUD AND MANY OTHER GAME-CHANGING TERMS THAT REFLECT THE RAPID EVOLUTION, DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION AND CONSTANT CHANGE AFFECTING THE INDUSTRY. INTRODUCTION Forget quaint acronyms like POTS (plain old telephone service). Today, telecommunications companies or CSPs (communications service providers) are focused on OTT (over the top), M2M (machine to machine), cloud and many other game-changing terms that reflect the rapid evolution, disruptive innovation and constant change affecting the industry. This volatility is blurring traditional lines and pecking orders among a growing number of industry players. These companies include traditional carriers, device-makers and other technology companies, as well as electronics retailers, social media platforms and even automotive manufacturers, among others. The hectic, ongoing nature of these changes heightens the magnitude of threats and opportunities that organizations and their internal audit functions confront. The telecommunications industry findings of Protiviti s 2012 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey indicate that internal audit functions and their leaders are playing key supporting roles in a variety of strategic demands while working diligently to increase the efficiency of risk management activities and core business processes. Specifically, the telecommunications industry survey findings suggest that internal audit s activities over the next year will center on four overarching priority areas: 1. Increasing the use of technology to audit key business process controls (e.g., sales contract timing, credit collection/bad debt) more effectively 2. Addressing and managing existing and emerging risks holistically 3. Enhancing efficiency through technology-enabled auditing 4. Nurturing internal collaboration and networking externally In all, the results from telecommunications participants in the 2012 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey present a picture of telecommunications internal audit functions that are prioritizing their activities and deploying their skills in order to balance tactical requirements with strategic contributions. 1

3 About the Survey Each year, Protiviti conducts its Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey to assess current skill levels of internal audit executives and professionals, identify areas in need of improvement and help stimulate the sharing of leading practices throughout the profession. This year, survey respondents answered close to 200 questions in the following categories: General Technical Knowledge, Audit Process Knowledge, Use of Technology in Auditing Business Process Controls, and Personal Skills and Capabilities. The results, which are based on information provided by all respondents (who numbered more than 800), are contained within the master report (available at In each category, respondents were asked to assess, on a scale of one to five, their competency in the different skills and areas of knowledge, with one being the lowest level of competency and five being the highest. They were then asked to indicate whether they believe they possess an adequate level of competency or if there is need for improvement, taking into account the circumstances of their organization and the nature of the telecommunications industry. RESULTS AND ANALYSIS The challenges bearing down on the U.S. telecommunications industry qualify as both sweeping and contradictory. Internal auditors contend with both of these qualities on a daily basis. In terms of scope, recent power shifts within the industry have been extraordinary. A decade ago, it seemed nearly impossible that a device-maker, like Apple, could wield such significant influence over the pricing models of cellular service providers. As to the opposing nature of their strategic challenges, telecommunications companies must innovate to capitalize on customers ever-increasing demand for data while also achieving much greater efficiency within traditional lines of business subject to intensifying pricing pressures. This translates to devising business models and new services that can drive data-related revenue while simultaneously managing major costreduction initiatives. Moreover, telecommunications companies must address a very different need: efficiency. The demand for greater innovation and more efficiency also targets internal audit functions. The survey results indicate that telecommunications internal auditors need to respond to these opposing needs by leveraging their own use of technology more effectively. 1. Increasing the Use of Technology to Audit Key Business Process Controls (e.g., Sales Contract Timing, Credit Collection/Bad Debt) More Effectively Internal audit s use of technology represents an important tool in its mission. By leveraging technology to audit business process controls, internal auditors can help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes, freeing up resources throughout the business to devote more time to developing additional efficiency improvements, as well as new services and other innovations. 2

4 To assess the extent to which internal audit is leveraging technology in its audit work, respondents were asked to assess, on a scale of one to five, the degree to which their organizations use technology to audit 36 business process controls, with one indicating no use and five representing extensive use. For each area, they were then asked to indicate whether they believe their use of technology is adequate or requires improvement, taking into account the circumstances of their organization and industry. Need to Increase Use of Technology Rank Table 1: Use of Technology in Auditing Business Process Controls Areas Evaluated by Respondents Degree of Technology Use (5-pt. scale) 1 Sales contract timing Credit collection/bad debt Receiving Credit memo process 2.3 Intercompany/inter-business unit sales and transfer pricing 2.2 Revenue recognition 2.7 Data/telecommunications costs 2.8 IT asset management 2.5 Obsolete/expired inventory 2.5 Purchasing/purchase order 2.9 Supplier management 2.6 The results suggest that there is significant potential for improvement via technology-enabled auditing. In fact, internal audit appears to lag behind other departments in terms of using technology (for more on this topic, see the Special Section: How Internal Auditors Are Using Technology in the master 2012 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey report). This is the case across all major industries. The overall responses to this survey show that a majority of internal audit functions are not using a software tool to administer their audit processes; and among those that are, many are not leveraging these tools to their fullest extent. Within the telecommunications industry, internal auditors indicated that they want to increase their use of technology to support activities that relate to: 1. The bottom line (e.g., credit collection/bad debt, receiving, data/telecommunications costs) 2. Regulatory compliance, as well as risk and fraud management issues (e.g., sales contract timing and IT asset management) 3. Both risk and revenue (e.g., revenue recognition) In light of the proliferation of new technologies in organizations today, it is incumbent upon the IT organization to keep careful track of devices, tools, software and other technologies that have been deployed throughout the organization to potentially thousands of employees. As a result, it is therefore incumbent upon the internal audit function to audit and test controls related to the policies for these tools and devices, including security and privacy, change control, and data integrity. Physical security is equally important. When little gadgets disappear, significant financial losses can result, or worse; in the event of a security or data breach that occurs due to ineffective IT asset management, potentially devastating regulatory noncompliance and/or reputation damage can occur. 3

5 In terms of fraud, telecommunications internal audit professionals clearly are looking to do a better job of capitalizing on technology-enabled auditing to monitor controls over areas more prone to fraudulent activity, such as access controls, suppliers, capital expenditures, and travel and entertainment expenses. Additionally, the high Need to Increase Use of Technology rankings for auditing business processes such as purchasing/purchase order and supplier management are further indicators of ongoing fraud-related concerns among internal auditors and their organizations, and the power and leverage of using technology to assist them. 2. Addressing and Managing Existing and Emerging Risks Holistically Within the General Technical Knowledge category, telecommunications internal auditors indicated that they are grappling with a wide range of familiar and emerging risks across several domains. For example, telecommunications internal audit functions contend with several of the same emerging, yet disruptive, technologies that present new risks in almost every industry. Most notably, social media applications and cloud computing have opened up a new world of unknowns in terms of security breaches, privacy vulnerabilities and other risks. Most areas of the organization, including internal audit, are in the process of figuring out how to manage and monitor these technologies and the related risks in an effective way. At the same time, however, telecommunications internal auditors confront numerous governance, risk management and compliance challenges. Survey respondents identified corporate governance standards (governance), ISO (risk management) and International Financial Reporting Standards (compliance) as top improvement priorities. The fact that the COSO Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) Integrated Framework also figured as a top priority suggests that internal audit functions (and their enterprises) are taking a more holistic approach to managing these GRC (governance, risk and compliance) requirements in a more integrated, and therefore more efficient, manner. Indeed, the most important improvement priorities survey respondents selected Six Sigma and fraud risk management confirm a prevailing shift toward a more efficient and overarching approach to risk management. 4

6 Table 2: General Technical Knowledge Need to Improve Rank Areas Evaluated by Respondents Competency (5-pt. scale) Six Sigma 2.8 Fraud risk management 2.5 COSO Enterprise Risk Management Integrated Framework 3.5 ISO (risk management) 2.0 Corporate governance standards (or local country equivalent) FASB Accounting Standards Codification 3.0 International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Board Risk Oversight (SEC Item 407(h) of Regulation S-K) Country-specific enterprise risk management framework Evaluating executive compensation risk of Regulation S-K AU Section 322 The Auditor s Consideration of the Internal Audit Function in an Audit of Financial Statements Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) U.K. Bribery Act 2.6 Cloud computing 3.0 GTAG 9: Identity and Access Management 2.8 GTAG 10: Business Continuity Management 2.9 Social media applications 2.5 Not surprisingly, survey respondents rate their competency on newer GRC priorities lower than they rate their competency on more familiar GRC priorities. Complying with Sarbanes-Oxley, for example, still represents a top-5 improvement priority; however, survey respondents rated their ability to manage Section 301, 302 and 404 requirements as a 4 on a 5-point scale. Meanwhile, survey respondents rated their ability for evaluating executive compensation risk of Regulation S-K (a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule related to the Dodd-Frank Act) as a 2.3 on the same 5-point scale. Similarly, telecommunications internal auditors, like their counterparts in other industries, rated their competency in certain emerging risk areas, such as social media applications (2.5 on the 5-point scale), lower compared to their competency in more familiar risk areas, such as COSO ERM Framework (3.5). These improvement priorities drive home the fact that internal auditors intend to strengthen their knowledge of emerging governance, risk management and compliance areas while simultaneously sharpening their ability to address existing risk areas in a more integrated and efficient manner. 5

7 3. Enhancing Efficiency Through Technology-Enabled Auditing Given the challenges (e.g., risks related to fraud, new compliance demands, cloud computing, social media) and unknowns (e.g., a period of intense change within the industry, the constant threats and opportunities posed by disruptive innovation, and a highly volatile macroeconomic environment) that telecommunications companies and their internal audit functions face, it is no surprise that internal auditors indicated that they intend to become more data-driven while implementing more automation to strengthen their effectiveness and efficiency. Consider that 13 of the top 15 priorities within the survey s Audit Process Knowledge category centered on (1) introducing greater levels of automation and data analysis to internal auditing processes; or (2) strengthening fraud detection, monitoring, management and investigation processes. These priorities reflect a strong push to increase efficiency, as well as effectiveness in the area of fraud prevention. Interestingly, based on the overall survey results, internal audit appears to lag behind other departments in terms of using technology. For example, a majority of internal audit functions are not using a software tool to administer their audit processes, and among those that are, many are not leveraging these tools to their fullest extent. There are significant opportunities to use technology more as part of internal audit activities and, specifically, in the control testing process. Leading-edge internal audit shops are increasingly relying upon technology including advanced data analytics and tools to test large data sets versus sampling techniques previously employed. In fact, the use of these and other technologies is enabling organizations to perform millions of transactions and capture vast amounts of data on a daily basis. Organizations are looking to their internal audit functions to devise efficient and cost-effective ways to monitor these activities and review and analyze this data on a continuous basis. Fortunately, there are a variety of auditing technologies available to accomplish this. The key is to enable internal audit team members, through education and training, to use them effectively and efficiently. 6

8 Table 3: Audit Process Knowledge Need to Improve Rank 1 2 Areas Evaluated by Respondents Competency (5-pt. scale) Computer-assisted audit tools (CAATs) 2.9 Fraud: auditing 3.1 Fraud: fraud detection/investigation 3.1 Fraud: management/prevention 3.0 Fraud: monitoring 3.0 Continuous auditing 3.3 Continuous monitoring 3.4 Data analysis tools: data manipulation 3.2 Data analysis tools: sampling 3.2 Data analysis tools: statistical analysis 3.0 Fraud: fraud risk 3.3 Fraud: fraud risk assessment 3.0 Presenting to senior management 3.9 Statistically based sampling 3.1 Top-down, risk-based approach to assessing internal control over financial reporting 3.9 The bottom line is that there is an ongoing movement in the internal audit profession from manual, timeintensive and, in many ways, inefficient auditing (relative to today s demands) to technology-enabled auditing practices that enable the review of virtually every transaction and piece of data on a continuing basis. 4. Nurturing Internal Collaboration and Networking Externally A quick glance at the top Personal Skills and Capabilities improvement priorities indicates that internal auditors are striving to elevate their game. Specifically, internal auditors appear intent on (1) strengthening their function s overall capabilities through outside networking and practices-sharing, and (2) forging stronger, more collaborative relationships with the senior executive team and the board. In terms of board relationships, survey respondents said that they are focused on strengthening their collaboration with audit committee members (of course), as well as the rest of the board. It is noteworthy that these priorities exist even in skills and capabilities areas where competency levels already are relatively high. For example, despite rating their strategic thinking capability as a 4.2 on a 5-point scale, survey respondents identified strategic thinking as their second-most important Personal Skills and Capabilities improvement priority. In addition, this drive for continuous improvement is evident in the fact that creating a learning internal audit function also figured as the second-most important improvement priority. 7

9 Need to Improve Rank Table 4: Personal Skills and Capabilities Areas Evaluated by Respondents Competency (5-pt. scale) 1 Developing outside contacts/networking Creating a learning internal audit function 3.6 Developing rapport with senior executives 3.8 Presenting (public speaking) 3.7 Strategic thinking 4.2 Change management 3.9 Coaching/mentoring 4.1 Developing audit committee relationships 3.6 Developing other board committee relationships 3.6 Leadership (within your organization) 4.0 Leadership (within the internal audit profession) 3.3 Leveraging others expertise 4.1 Negotiation 3.4 High-pressure meetings 3.4 Dealing with confrontation 3.5 Presenting (small groups) 4.1 Persuasion 4.1 Using/mastering new technology and applications 3.8 Many of these improvement priorities such as leadership (within your organization), change management, high-pressure meetings, dealing with confrontation, and negotiation also reflect the ongoing evolution of the internal audit function. Few, if any, effective internal audit departments operate in a silo today. A growing number of functions have embraced an immersive role as they work closely with business partners to address threats and opportunities throughout the enterprise. From a skills perspective, it is no longer sufficient to simply step out of the old silo mindset and into a new, more immersive role. Instead, internal auditors appear eager to ensure that their collaborations with all of the different parts of the business are as strong as possible. This requires leadership, negotiation, dealing with confrontation, persuasion and other soft skills that can lead to effective relationship building. IN CLOSING At a time when every day delivers the possibility of a new game-changing acquisition or innovation within the telecommunications industry, internal auditors remain committed to continuously improving their own capabilities. This commitment, as evidenced by the priorities selected by respondents to the 2012 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey, should help telecommunications companies remain agile, efficient, innovative and, perhaps above all, prepared when the next disruptive innovation strikes. 8

10 ABOUT PROTIVITI Protiviti (www.protiviti.com) is a global consulting firm that helps companies solve problems in finance, technology, operations, governance, risk and internal audit. Through our network of more than 70 offices in over 20 countries, we have served more than 35 percent of FORTUNE 1000 and Global 500 companies. We also work with smaller, growing companies, including those looking to go public, as well as with government agencies. Protiviti is a wholly owned subsidiary of Robert Half International Inc. (NYSE: RHI). Founded in 1948, Robert Half International is a member of the S&P 500 index. About Our Telecommunications Industry Practice Protiviti s professionals have years of experience serving the telecommunications industry. Our experience ranges from large incumbents to smaller competitive providers and from traditional voice to wireless and broadband companies. Our professionals also have deep industry knowledge of key business functions, including network operations, customer service, billing, revenue assurance, business intelligence, financial reporting and regulatory affairs. Additionally, we have assisted executive management in determining, communicating and implementing effective strategies to help the organization achieve desired goals of revenue growth and cost containment, leading to improved profitability and financial stability. Our experience in working with all levels of operations and management provides us with the knowledge necessary to assist telecommunications providers with multiple aspects of their business. Contact Gordon Tucker Managing Director

11 THE AMERICAS EUROPE United States Alexandria Atlanta Baltimore Boston Charlotte Chicago Cincinnati Cleveland Dallas Denver Fort Lauderdale Houston Kansas City Los Angeles Milwaukee Minneapolis New York Orlando Philadelphia Phoenix Pittsburgh Portland Richmond Sacramento Salt Lake City San Francisco San Jose Seattle Stamford St. Louis Tampa Washington, D.C. Woodbridge France Paris Germany Frankfurt Munich Italy Milan Rome Turin MIDDLE EAST The Netherlands Amsterdam United Kingdom London Argentina Buenos Aires* Brazil Rio de Janeiro* São Paulo* Canada Kitchener-Waterloo Toronto Chile Santiago* Mexico Mexico City* Monterrey* Peru Lima* Bahrain Manama* Kuwait Kuwait City* Oman Muscat* United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi* Dubai* Venezuela Caracas* ASIA-PACIFIC Australia Brisbane Canberra Melbourne Perth Sydney China Beijing Hong Kong Shanghai Shenzhen India Bangalore Mumbai New Delhi Indonesia Jakarta** Japan Osaka Tokyo Singapore Singapore South Korea Seoul * Protiviti Member Firm ** Protiviti Alliance Member 2012 Protiviti Inc. An Equal Opportunity Employer. PRO-PKIC Protiviti is not licensed or registered as a public accounting firm and does not issue opinions on financial statements or offer attestation services.

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