An IT policy refers to a set of rules and guidelines that define how IT operations, infrastructure, and resources should be allocated and used in an organization.
IT policies are important because they provide clarity for users in an organization regarding the proper usage, control, security, and maintenance of technology assets. Not only that, but an IT policy also helps businesses to monitor and stay on top of their information security.
IT policies help your accounting firm to:
- Give IT use guidance to employees
- Organize your IT
- Combat security threats
- Manage and control risk
- Ensure efficient, effective, and reliable operations
To put together an effective IT policy, there are three components to consider.
- Policy Content
- Policy Administration
- Policy Practice
1. IT Policy Content
IT policy content refers to the policy’s core components, such as the substantive information and resources required to put the policy into action.
Knowing this, what content components should go into an IT policy?
The Purpose of Your IT Policy
The first step to developing and enforcing an effective IT policy is to have a clear objective that defines your business goals.
Today, many accounting firms are locked into the idea that their IT policies are outstanding and will work. While it’s natural to assume that your policy is bound for success, such thinking can be counterproductive if objectivity is lacking.
Think through all the aspects of your company’s goals and objectives as a part of your overall policy.
- How does your IT policy will contribute to furthering these goals?
- What business challenge or market opportunity does your IT policy address?
- Are you imposing a policy to comply with a specific industry standard?
- Is your IT policy general, or is it created to mitigate the ever-increasing risks of a data breach?
The answer to these questions will help you devise effective IT policy content that’s aligned with your business objectives. A comprehensive and well-defined statement of purpose is vital in shaping the standards contained in your policy.
Define Policy Users
Long before implementation, there must be a deep understanding of your policy’s target users.
Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- Is the IT policy applicable to every network user?
- Is the policy specific to employees, customers, contractors, suppliers, or administrators?
- Are policy standards similar or different for system administrators?
Not identifying and determining which users your policy is geared towards is a mistake that can doom your strategy from the beginning.
History of Revisions
History of revisions is essential in IT policies for accounting firms because, as the name suggests, it identifies the re-interpretation of historical IT records. The revision of historical IT records can help your accounting firm with the discovery of facts, evidence, and interpretation, which drive continuous policy review.
Although not as influential as the definition of your policy purpose and your target audience, a History of Revisions can help maintain your IT policy’s relevance. At the end of the day, you don’t want to implement redundant, obscure, insignificant, or outdated policy mandates.
History of Revisions will help reveal your policy’s strengths and weaknesses over time and enable your IT manager to proactively monitor progress and note any changes.
Standards for user practices are at the core of any IT policy. IT policy standards are the mandatory courses of action or rules that support or make an IT policy more meaningful and useful. Standards go more in-depth and elaborate on the high-level policies. While standards have a considerable foothold in IT policies, it’s essential to understand that they don’t refer to the entirety of the IT policy. However, every policy will, by necessity, include IT standards.
Because your accounting firm has unique and evolving needs, standards must be tailored to your organization’s requirements and addressed within the same scope.
How? By defining your firm’s objectives and target audiences as highlighted above.
Taking this into account, here’s a list of a few issues that IT standards will nearly always address:
- Acceptable Use Policy
- Data Storage — How, where, and which data should be stored
- Data Sharing — How data should be shared
- Data Archiving — How business data is archived and what happens if the data isn’t actively used for some time
- Identity and Access Management — Who can access and share data and user privileges
- General Security Standards – such as password usage, physical device security, file sharing protocols
- Software and Device Usage — which program/devices are appropriate for which contexts, and how they should be used
- Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans — Steps to take in the event of an attack, breach, or business risk
Having the right policy standards such as the ones above and other relevant IT issues sets the stage for creating an effective IT security policy.
2. IT Policy Administration
IT Policy Administration involves the appropriate person to oversee and execute your IT policy.
Policy administration is where progress is made and where the work happens, and having someone in charge of your IT policy is crucial.
A policy administration leader is a person who initiates and communicates the policies and plans to users. Like a coach of a team, this leader keeps policy users on track and focused on proper policy implementation. This means holding users accountable and putting them in the best position to succeed in a viable strategy.
As seen above, policy administration is fundamental. Make sure you know who’s in charge.
Leadership from the Top is Key
Think about it. Too often, IT departments are expected to be at the helm of IT policy administration. Yes, your IT department will undoubtedly help implement components of the policy, which is understandable.
Regardless of the urge to delegate policy administration to your IT department, ultimate accountability for an IT policy must come from an organization’s executive levels, informed by the research, hard work, and best practices of your IT department.
The leadership style of any organization is a massive contributor to the overall workplace culture.
What does this mean?
When an IT department is solely held accountable for administering an IT security policy, this fuels a crisis where security priority is primarily isolated to the IT department. Consequently, complying with such a policy becomes something that “the IT guys want” or push users to do.
This can be detrimental. — Here’s why.
It’s easier for users to dismiss or overlook an IT professional’s continual requests than when the request comes from top levels of the organization.
Depending on how large or small your accounting firm is, ultimate accountability for policy administration will fall on the CEO, Manager, the CIO, or a CISO. Irrespective of the title or role, administration accountability is a responsibility that needs to lie with organizational executives.
3. IT Policy Practice
Last but not least is consistent IT policy practice. This is the final component to the success of an IT policy. It involves IT leaders and departments leveraging their skills to propose, implement, and change policies to achieve business goals.
As we discussed earlier, policy practice mainly emanates from policy administration. However, there’s more to it than that. While we’ve established that accountability for an IT policy needs to come from the top levels of an organization, IT departments are the driving force behind its implementation.
To successfully execute your firm’s IT policy, the following should take place;
- Security and policy awareness user education and training
- Setting up systems to comply with policy standards
- Regular or periodic reviews to evaluate policy adherence
- Policy revisions subject to required changes
Your IT policy can be highly effective when you properly implement and practice it.
Who Should You Rely On?
If you’re overwhelmed by the prospect of doing it all yourself, don’t worry – Alavanca Systems can help.
We’ve found that accounting firms often face IT complexities that compound the difficulty of designing their IT policies and fall short in the effective execution of those policies.
We’ll help you design and implement a common-sense, tailored, and effective IT policy across your entire organization.
Let’s get started. Call or email to begin a no-obligation conversation.
Ciro Cetrangolo is an IT specialist with over 30+ years in the IT services industry. Ciro has a deep understanding of the software, workflow, and underlying technology of accounting organizations and helps firms like yours achieve the secure, stable, and streamlined IT environments you need to accomplish your work more effectively. See my Amazon Author Profile