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Technical Infrastructure and Operational Practices and Infrastructure

This chapter is from the book

Key concepts you will need to understand:

  • Risks and controls related to hardware platforms, system software and utilities, network infrastructure, and IS operational practices

  • Systems performance and monitoring processes, tools, and techniques (for example, network analyzers, system error messages, system utilization reports, load balancing)

  • The process of IT infrastructure acquisition, development, implementation, and maintenance

  • Change control and configuration-management principles for hardware and system software

  • Practices related to the management of technical and operational infrastructure (for example, problem-management/resource-management procedures, help desk, scheduling, service-level agreements)

  • Functionality of systems software and utilities (for example, database-management systems, security packages)

  • Functionality of network components (for example, firewalls, routers, proxy servers, modems, terminal concentrators, hubs, switches)

  • Network architecture (for example, network protocols, remote computing, network topologies, Internet, intranet, extranet, client/server)

Techniques you will need to master:

  • Evaluate the acquisition, installation, and maintenance of hardware to ensure that it efficiently and effectively supports the organization's IS processing and business requirements, and is compatible with the organization's strategies

  • Evaluate the development/acquisition, implementation, and maintenance of systems software and utilities to ensure ongoing support of the organization's IS processing and business requirements, and compatibility with the organization's strategies

  • Evaluate the acquisition, installation, and maintenance of the network infrastructure to ensure efficient and effective support of the organization's IS processing and business requirements

  • Evaluate IS operational practices to ensure efficient and effective utilization of the technical resources used to support the organization's IS processing and business requirements

  • Evaluate the use of system performance and monitoring processes, tools, and techniques to ensure that computer systems continue to meet the organization's business objectives

IT Organizational Structure

As an IS auditor, you will need to understand the technical infrastructure of the organization, the IS organizational structure, and the operational practices. IT management is responsible for the acquisition and maintenance of the information architecture. This includes networking devices, servers and operating systems, data storage systems, applications, and the standards and protocols associated with network communication.

IT managers must define the role and articulate the value of the IT function. This includes the IT organizational structure as well as operational practices. The IT management functions are generally divided into two functional areas:

  • Line management—Line managers are concerned with the routine operational decisions on a day-to-day basis.

  • Project management—Project managers work on specific projects related to the information architecture. Projects are normally a one-time effort with a fixed start, duration, and end that reach a specific deliverable or objective.

The following are line management functions:

  • Control group—Responsible for the logging and collection of input for users.

  • Data management—Responsible for the data architecture (integrity, validity, and so on).

  • Database administrator—Responsible for the maintenance of the organization's database systems

  • Systems administrator—Responsible for the maintenance of computer systems and local area networks (LANs). Sets up system accounts, installs system-wide software, and so on.

  • Network manager/administrator—Responsible for the planning, implementation, and maintenance of the telecommunications infrastructure.

  • Quality assurance manager—Responsible for ensuring the quality of activities performed in all areas of information technology.

The IT functional areas are responsible for the computing infrastructure. This includes computer hardware, network hardware, communications systems, operating systems, and application software and data files. IT management must understand how these elements work together and must establish a control infrastructure (defined functions, policies, procedures, governance) that will reduce risk to the organization during the acquisition, implementation, maintenance, and disposal processes.

A clear understanding of networking and data components enables you to evaluate existing input/output (I/O) controls and monitoring procedures. Organizations should constantly seek to use technology more efficiently and effectively to meet business objectives. This quest will provide a myriad of choices regarding technology and the acquisition, development, implementation, and maintenance of the network as a whole and its individual components.

A clearly defined IT strategic plan combined with acquisition planning, project management, and strong operational practices (policies and procedures) will ensure two things: First, the IT organization will be aligned with the business strategy and objectives. Second, IT resources will be used effectively and efficiently. IT managers consistently balance operational issues and the implementation of new technology. This balancing act creates competing priorities: Operational issues usually fall into the "urgent" category, whereas the implementation of new technology falls into the "important" category. "Urgent" includes application and network issues that negatively impact operational systems. These issues need to be addressed and corrected as quickly as possible to ensure continued operations. "Important" issues include the review, testing, and implementation of new methodologies or technologies to improve the operational environment. If an IT organization allows itself to be driven primarily by urgent issues while putting important issues to the side, it will quickly become a completely reactive environment and will not look forward to properly align technology and business objectives. Adherence to strong operational and planning practices ensures that the IT organization strikes an equal balance between operational issues and future planning, and continues to align technical resources with business objectives.

Throughout this chapter, we describe in detail the separate components of the information architecture. Some of these concepts will be new to you, and some you will have already encountered as an IS auditor. Together, they will give you a complete overview of the information architecture. With this knowledge, you should be able to review complex business processes and associate the related components, controls, and operational practices. It is important to remember that no matter how complex the technology is, the foundation of standards, practices, and controls remains the same.

Take a basic example that might be familiar to a majority of you: Amazon.com. Amazon uses the same type of transactions and transaction processing that that many e-commerce companies use; it also uses the same base set of controls. The basic components of the systems include a web server to respond to requests and a relational database to manage the transactions. When the customer finds the desired items to purchase, some type of shopping card and payment system is used. The final portions of the system are the inventory management/shipping system and the financial system, which handles all the financial transactions. Overall, the business functions of Amazon.com are not that different. Knowing the individual components, communication protocols, and operational procedures, however, helps the IS auditor evaluate the system to ensure that the organization is using accepted best practices (controls) and that the information architecture is aligned with the business objectives.

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