Security an ongoing threat for Canadian CFOs

Canadian chief financial officers are feeling vulnerable with the security of their information systems, according to a new survey by Robert Half Management Resources in Toronto.

“Security seems to be a major concern for all of our clients,” said David King, regional manager at Robert Half, a provider of senior-level accounting and financial professionals. He added that CFOs are focusing more on prevention and investment in prevention against security threats. “There is a great unknown out there for what the real threat is,” and people want to be prepared, he said.

The survey included more than 270 CFOs from a stratified random sample of Canadian companies with more than 20 employees, and asked two major questions — the first being where CFOs felt the most vulnerable.

The majority, 32 per cent, said security of information systems was the biggest threat, followed closely by disaster preparedness/recovery with 20 per cent and protection of intellectual capital at 12 per cent.

King said these responses are reflective of the fact that a lot of companies are likely realizing that the last time they invested heavily in IT was probably too long ago.

“A lot of the systems that they implemented either three, four or five years ago were patched over the years and are now probably requiring a heavier investment to upgrade those systems,” King explained. “In some cases we are seeing clients continue to overhaul [their systems] instead of patching them.”

The second question asked CFOs to pinpoint where they would most heavily invest in 2004 to ensure their companies’ future growth.

Technology enhancement ranked high with 11 per cent of CFOs’ growth lists. About 19 per cent of CFOs who took part in the survey said they would put their money in marketing for the company, followed closely by investing in facilities and training.

King said the focus on expansion and employee training is likely because companies are getting ready for an increase in demand as the market recovers. Also, there is a perception that IT companies are ready to start spending more to increase their exposure in the marketplace.

“All of these areas are indicative of [the CFOs] having a little more faith in the marketplace,” King explained. “The thinking is that the market is about ready to pay them back.”

He did warn that there is no indication how much money exactly CFOs are willing to spend in 2004. Also, Robert Half hasn’t done this survey in recent years, so there isn’t a point of comparison from the past, however, King said there was a definite sign of decline in investment from an IT perspective three years ago.

“I think that our clients were cutting back in their budgets all over the place…not putting money into facilities or training,” he said. “I think it is a change that companies are shifting their priorities to being able to capture a marketplace that they seem to believe will return pretty soon.”

This survey also reflects a change in thinking from the top down of IT companies, especially when security is an issue. CFOs are now asking questions about how secure their companies are, King said.

One surprise in the survey for King was that only two per cent of respondents felt their competition was a point of vulnerability.

“Automatically you think the biggest threat would come from the competition,” King said. “But it seems that they want to make sure their internal shop is in tune first.”

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