From your IT systems and networks to your Cyber Security readiness the operational health of your IT infrastructure can change with time. Similar to the human body, there are multiple “systems” that can fail, degrade or just need some close attention as your business grows and needs change.
So, just like you need to go to your doctor for a check-up from time to time, you also need to subject your business to an independent IT health check.
So how do you know when it is time for an audit? Circumstances will vary but if you feel that your IT fails to meet your expectations or requirements, it may be time for a check-up. And working with an independent IT expert on the audit will give you an unbiased, outside perspective that you won’t get internally.
Which means you are more likely to reveal hidden inefficiencies or opportunities for improvement in the way your IT supports your business.
What is an independent IT audit?
The end goal of an IT audit is to provide a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the performance of your business IT. A proper business IT review takes a holistic look at every aspect of your IT ecosystem, as opposed to one specific area. This is even more important as your employees are increasingly working across a complicated set of business applications and devices.
So, it encompasses your hardware, software, personnel, organisational structure, communications and even extends to IT governance and policies. It’s also not just a high-level overview of each of these areas. An IT audit delves deeply into each area of concern, digging to find the root cause of surface-level issues.
The assessment highlights things like:
- missed IT and business opportunities
- hidden inefficiencies
- a specific lack of knowledge or expertise
- inadequate hardware or software set up
- overlooked best practices
- or maybe even a lack of compliance with relevant industry standards or regulations.
The key thing is that the final report should provide you with:
- a prioritised list of recommendations for where improvements can be made
- along with actionable steps to start moving in the right direction
So, it needs to be practical, useful and be capable of having a direct impact on your business health and its performance.
Another critical part of an IT audit is a risk assessment. So important, in fact, that a risk assessment is sometimes carried out as an independent audit in itself. A risk assessment looks at various threats to your IT systems, including potential issues with cybersecurity, physical harm, disasters, etc. This type of assessment is important for developing disaster recovery, incident response, and risk management strategies. Not to mention preparing your business ahead of time for any of these eventualities.
If nothing else, you should walk away from an IT assessment with a greater understanding of your business’s strengths and weaknesses.
Why a routine assessment of IT systems is important
We know from our work providing IT audits -as part of highly effective IT support in Edinburgh, Fife and Central Scotland – the overarching goal of an IT assessment is greater visibility into the status of your entire IT infrastructure. Without knowing what you’re doing right or wrong, you won’t know where to start improving your IT operations.
At best, this leaves you directionless in terms of how to improve your IT systems. At worst, it leaves you utterly unaware of serious flaws or risks that could have dire consequences if not addressed.
So, what are the benefits of carrying out regular independent IT systems reviews? They are fairly wide ranging but include:
- Boosting your productivity
- Enhancing your overall IT and business security
- Improving your efficiency in utilising and managing resources
- Introducing intelligent and effective risk management
- Optimising expenditure on IT and increased ROI
- Greater comfort that you are adhering to requisite standards, best practices and regulations.
Short term this should result in better visibility and understand of IT issues and potential upside between key business stakeholders.
In the long-term, it should give management and decision-makers a more precise roadmap of how to create and implement a successful IT strategy. One that supports growth and maintains business continuity.
What steps are involved in an IT audit?
When it comes to an independent IT audit, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that applies exactly in all situations. The exact nature and order of the process may vary depending on the independent contractor, the business, and its IT systems’ status.
However, broadly speaking, an IT audit can be broken down into the following phases:
Establish Auditing Objectives
During the auditing process, findings may come to light that you were unprepared for. However, you may have a particular goal or pain point in mind when deciding to carry out an IT audit. If that’s the case, you should document these objectives and disclose them to the auditing team.
Planning and Preparation Phase
Also called the announcement phase, this is a crucial part of the process that’s often overlooked by IT staff – to the detriment of the entire process. The focus here has to be on engaging with the business ahead of time to ensure that you are prepared for the audit and leverage as much of the background data you can gather.
Some items that might help here are:
- An IT asset inventory: It will waste time and resources if the auditing team first needs to catalogue all your IT assets. You should already have some kind of inventory system handy as part of your IT maintenance. This includes all access information, such as logins credentials, connection protocols, etc.
- Financial statements: Budgeting is often a major pain point for IT departments. Providing financial statements can help auditors identify unnecessary expenditures or opportunities for optimising operational costs
- IT policies and procedures: A thorough IT audit will also attempt to find ways to improve your internal policies. This will be easier to do if you have these formalised and well-documented. Otherwise, it could lead to many requests for information or documentation down the line.
- Security controls and safeguards: This serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it will help the auditors assess your security posture and maturity. Secondly, it will help them effectively navigate your security controls to streamline the auditing process.
- Previous audit results: The outcomes of earlier audits give auditors background knowledge and perspective on what to expect. It can also help identify where you had issues or successes implementing previous recommendations.
- Self-assessment: Although not always required, an auditor may request a self-assessment from you as business owner. No one knows your IT better than you and it could give them valuable insight and context.
Carrying Out the Audit
This is where the approach and exact sequence of steps may differ depending on who is carrying the audit out for you. However, any thorough audit should cover all of the following activities:
- Gap assessment: This involves spotting gaps in your workforce, hardware, software, security, or IT policies. For example, gaps in specific IT needs or business apps to complete certain tasks.
- Tests and deliverables: An auditor might conduct detailed tests or asked a structured set of questions to assess the current state of play in your IT set up
- Testing and assessing controls: This is the stage where the auditing team will test all your IT systems hands-on, mainly in terms of cybersecurity.
Finalising the audit
Once the audit is complete any IT specialist worth their salt is going to want to review and dig into the findings and come back with strong analysis and recommendations.
Be wary of any IT provider who comes back to you too quickly or is vague in terms of their assessment and suggestions for improvement. No-one benefits from ‘shelfware’ style reports and the success or failure of the next step in the process – improving your IT on the back of the report – depends heavily on the expertise of the team that carries it out.
At Managed IT Experts that is our bread and butter. If we can help you review your IT please do not hesitate to contact us.