Microsoft helps customers put on SOX

Microsoft Canada Co. joined a growing number of software companies Monday by unveiling a tool designed to help its customers ward off the looming effects of U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley accounting regulations, otherwise known as SOX.

The Microsoft Office Solution Accelerator for Sarbanes-Oxley — a free Office suite add-on — is being shipped to the company’s array of partners across the country.

Microsoft has issued similar “Accelerators” in the past — integrated packages of software, templates and best practices guides. It’s built on Office 2003, and acts as a corporate repository where crucial data and documents related to SOX efforts can be stored, or as a tool to track overall efforts to become compliant with the U.S. law, which will take effect in November for some companies, April 2005 for others.

The law requires companies to include in annual financial reports a report by management on their company’s internal control over financial reporting, and an accompanying auditor’s report.

Using the add-on, “(customers) can now have a conversation between the IT department…and the chief financial officer,” said Michael Bulmer, Microsoft Office system product manager in Mississauga, Ont.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, Microsoft Canada says there are as many as 600 companies directly affected by the law. Companies listed on U.S. exchanges, or wholly owned subsidiaries, are bound by it. “And if you ever thought you might want to be acquired (by a U.S. company)…it’s going to help you” demonstrate proper due diligence, Bulmer added.

The Accelerator is specifically built on SharePoint Services, and InfoPath, two technologies found in Microsoft Office 2003, which is a pre-requisite to running the tool. Customers or partners should be able to install the Accelerator itself within a week. But according to Rick Martin, a consultant with Habanero Consulting Group in Vancouver, partners will likely have to be called in to customize the product to suit its corporate parent.

“You very much need a detailed view into the organization,” he said.

Although there are competing offerings already available, most notably from the big accounting firms, Martin said given Microsoft’s familiarity with software and its customers’ needs, “there was a marketplace need for such a products

“We’re starting to notice a definite increase in and questions around the Accelerator, and what it can do.”

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