It is becoming more and more difficult for companies to fulfill legal requirements for archiving business documents. Just think of the ever-increasing quantities of data that are stored on wildly divergent sources – file systems, databases, e-mail archives, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. Compliance regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act make great demands on the availability of enterprise-critical data. Sarbanes-Oxley, for example, affects every company traded on a stock exchange in the United States, so it affects larger European companies. These companies must also comply with national regulations, such as those in force in Germany or France.
The need to comply with regulations requires companies to make their archives available to auditors at all times and at an agreed-upon location, regardless of the software used to manage and store the data. Archived data from all platforms, such as Windows NT, Unix derivatives, or OS400, must be provided promptly in a form that can be read and processed. As logged-on users, auditors must be able to access all the documents relevant to them and to copy the information to any storage medium so that they can process it at an external location with auditing software.
The scope of tax-relevant data is often underestimated
The regulations that apply to digital data of financial, asset, and payroll accounting also apply to tax-relevant information from other areas of the company – materials management or personnel, for example. According to German law, everything that affects the annual report must be available to auditors. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires proof that important documents have not been changed between being stored for the first time and being provided to auditors. And that’s where many companies easily underestimate the scope of tax-relevant data. According to studies undertaken by the Enterprise Strategy Group, 70 percent of all information relevant to the annual report is contained in e-mail communications, but only a very few companies are aware of this fact.
There’s clearly a need for an intelligent solution that automatically qualifies data. Tax-relevant information from outside of the accounting department must be recognized and made available to auditors, and the quantity of data that can be examined must be kept to a minimum. The goal is to avoid giving auditors access to more information than they require, but auditors should also not be given a reason to request additional data that would require demanding research. In the real world, it’s next to impossible to store, manually search for, and manually sort the relevant documents in a separate archive because so many different parties generate business-critical content – employees, customers, and vendors.
Calling information with Web services
SOA simplifies all this work. Content-integration solutions based on SOA standards like Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Description Language (WSDL), or Extensible Markup Language (XML) operate independently of platform and data format. That’s why you can use them to create, index, and store all data; make it available for an audit; and then delete it at the end of its life cycle. According to Sarbanes-Oxley, data can be deleted seven years after the completion of an audit.
With SOA, companies can use a single interface to manage and copy data from several systems. Web services enable users to access the data and view it with an existing tool, even when the original application no longer exists or when a specific file format can be opened at every workplace.
With a solution based on Web services, the desired documents are always available at the push of a button, instead of the traditional approach that meant spending a great deal of effort to collate the data physically from various sources. SOA makes such a task particularly easy because the elements of the IT architecture are provided with Web services interfaces. These loosely coupled services exchange messages among themselves regardless of the platform.
In an SOA environment, companies can use an index to link every document with one or more virtual files that contain a customer number, customer name, or product information. This approach means that they can find related documents from various sources without manual effort and regardless of the documents’ location or format. The open interface can display the information in any viewer on the desktop, but the information remains untouched in its original location. Because the data is categorized and indexed as soon as it is stored, no tax-relevant documents – even e-mails – are lost and no duplicates are placed in the archive. Data is automatically deleted only when it is no longer legally required. That creates valuable storage space without spending additional time and money.
Faster access to existing knowledge
SOA solutions also help use available storage space intelligently even before the end of the life cycle of tax-relevant data and data that must be stored according to legal requirements. All the information can be displayed on an SAP viewer or a viewer on another client. That means that even after mergers and acquisitions, companies do not have to migrate the data of companies they have taken over into their own solutions. All documents are made available for each individual system over direct interfaces in the familiar environment.
The benefits appear in daily business operations. Employees save time when searching for information. They can respond to inquiries from customers, colleagues, or the accounting department right away. Reference material, such as the valuable knowledge that resides in a company, can be found and used easily.
An intelligent content integration solution based on Web services also eliminates redundant data because it provides information from a central store of data to various user groups according to their needs. Employees, HR managers, and auditors all need different views of payroll and salary accounting. If the individual data records and fields have been indexed and archived properly, they can be made available to the different user groups as needed.
Mobius Management Systems, an SAP partner, offers a solution for simple and quick access to content from various data sources with Total Content Integrator. The tool is based on SOA standards; conforms to Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE); and is supported by the SAP NetWeaver platform. The tool integrates data from SAP, Microsoft .NET, IBM, and other software environments and makes it available in SAP NetWeaver Portal. That’s how compliance regulations lose their power to create fear.