The IT Steering Committee – Should or Must?

At a recent user group meeting of one of the major core vendors for community banks, I asked the question ‘how many of you use an IT or Tech Steering Committee?’.  I was expecting a vast majority of hands to go up, but only about half did.  This was surprising to me, given that:

  • The FFIEC all but mandates this committee,
  • The FDIC strongly encourages it,
  • Auditors recommend it, and
  • It provides a mechanism to address many of the most difficult examination questions

First, the FFIEC mandate.  On page 5 of the Management Handbook, it states:

Many boards of directors choose to delegate the responsibility for monitoring IT activities to a senior management committee or IT steering committee…The committee should consist of representatives from senior management, the IT department, and major end-user departments.

Some institutions may call it a Tech Steering Committee, or have another name for it, but in “FFIEC-speak”, if “many” choose to do this, you better have a pretty good reason if you decide not to do it.  In fact in Objectives 3, 4 and 5 of the Examination Procedures, the examiner is instructed to review;

  • …the membership list of board, IT steering, or relevant management
    committees established to review IT related matters.
  • …the minutes of the board of directors and relevant committee meetings
  • …IT oversight program, to determine if the Board…established a steering committee, and
  • …the effectiveness of the reports used by senior management or
    relevant management committees.

The FDIC strongly encourages the use of an IT management committee in their IT Officers Questionnaire.  Part 1 (b) asks for “the names and titles of individuals, committees, departments or others participating in the risk assessment process”. And as I addressed in my series of the trickiest questions on the questionnaire, this committee, and the documentation it produces, can help you document adherence with many aspects of your IT risk management process.

Finally, most of the recent findings in IT audits are due to institutions’ inability to document that they are following their own policies.  The policies themselves are sufficient, and the institution may indeed be complying with them, but because of non-existent or inadequate documentation they can’t prove that they are.  And in today’s compliance environment, if you can’t prove you’re doing it, you aren’t doing it.

Given it’s overall importance, consider the IT Steering Committee a “must”.  If you don’t have one, make a New Years resolution to establish one.  Give it a mission to assist the board in overseeing IT-related activities.  Make sure it consists of members from all departments, and work from a standardized meeting agenda.  Lastly, document each and every meeting, and periodically report to the Board.  Better audits and examinations in 2011 will be the fruits of your labor.

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