Compliance deadline dash creates IT auditor shortage

Contracting IT auditors may make the list of endangered species in Australia as demand for internal IT auditors outstrips supply.

Globally, large organizations are salivating for full-time in-house auditing staff as the race to comply with new corporate governance standards drives demand for auditing skills.

Lucrative overseas job offers have led to local IT auditors moving to the US, forcing Australia to revisit the 'brain drain' scenario that dominated the local industry in the late 1990s.

IT auditing and risk management firm Protivit believes this skills shortage will leave Australia bereft of auditors within 18 months. The company's associate director Sheamus Causer said demand for auditors locally and overseas isn't expected to slow down in the next 12 months.

"It is not like the Y2K buzz or a one-off project - there has been an industry shift towards risk management staff and the key reason behind the potential shortage of IT auditing contractors is because of demand from the banks," Causer said.

"Banks worldwide have been targeting candidates once recruited to fill internal IT auditing places and there has been a lot of competition overseas for Australian and Singaporean IT auditors.

"The growth in demand in the local market is driven by the need for specialist skills because no university produces an IT auditor - they are trained through large consulting firms or in-house to get the skills they need."

In addition to corporate governance, Causer says pent up demand for large IT projects is also fuelling the shortage as organizations begin rolling out major initiatives.

He said companies are making greater use of auditors realizing the benefits of more pro-actively managing large projects; such talent is also being leveraged in the boardroom.

Jane Bianchini, IT director of recruitment firm Ambition agrees there has been a huge shift in demand for IT auditing contractors and warns Australia is likely to suffer a skills shortage.

"There has been a huge shift to project governance globally with businesses becoming more risk averse through what has happened with Enron and HIH for example," Bianchini said, adding that contractors are also being lured into full-time positions from where they typically move into management positions.

Stephen James, the CEO of IT security audit specialist ITAC, says he has never seen a greater drain of IT staff leaving Australian shores.

However, he said there has always been a shortfall of experienced auditors in Australia, especially those with forensic skills.

"Typically, I see auditors in Australia as having one of two key areas of focus. General auditing caters for the non-technical aspect of IT auditing such as security policy, IT governance, risk management and reviews. The technology-focused IT auditor typically takes audits like Internet-based security reviews, penetration tests and code analysis.

"There has always been a shortage of people skilled in both areas," James said.

University of Sydney internal audit director, Barry Munns, said a good auditor is as rare to find as hen's teeth.

"You want technically proficient people who can take on anything or analyze any aspect of IT, which is hard to get - you need auditors who understand business process, management and commerce from a pragmatic point of view," Munns said.

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