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With So Much Information, Who’s to Say What’s Accurate?

"We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely."
--E. O. Wilson, American Scientist

Information integrityOn my smartphone I have four different weather apps. Isn’t it amazing we live in a world where we can find out the weather in seconds on demand? Of course, there’s a price to pay for having so much information available at our fingertips. On any given day, I could consult each app and they each might tell me a different forecast for the day or week. That’s not a huge issue if the difference is a matter of about four degrees in the summertime. I’m not sure I can tell the difference between 74 and 78 degrees, anyway. But what about winter? I may not be able to feel the difference between 31 and 35 degrees, but my steep driveway can definitely convey the difference to me quite well as I spin my wheels on black ice on my way to work in the morning.

That’s why it’s vital that you feel confident about the information you use day-to-day—at home and in business.

We all have access to an increasing amount of structured and unstructured information in today's electronic world. In the business world, managers, investors, regulators, shareholders and other professionals may use excerpts from financial statements, data from company records and metrics published by business entities and organizations in order to make any number of business-related decisions. The ability to access real-time information (whether it be accurate or not) makes it increasingly challenging to make the best decisions. Understanding the importance of information integrity can help you face those challenges.

Information integrity is determined based on the information’s consistency with its meta-information (all those pesky little details) and its representational faithfulness. Accuracy, relevance, precision, timeliness and completeness of the information and its details are key attributes in determining that the information is "fit for purpose."

The AICPA’s Assurance Services Executive Committee Trust Services/Data Integrity Task Force has published a new thought leadership paper on Information Integrity which provides professionals with guidance on how information integrity can be achieved, maintained and used to create added value and mitigate risk. The paper:

  • explains how the increasing amount and complexity of information affects users, practitioners, information preparers and service organization assurance providers;
  • defines the life cycle of information, the criteria needed for information integrity assurance, the importance of its materiality and the risks associated with using certain types of information; and
  • provides guidance on how information integrity can be achieved, maintained and used to create added value. 

Whether you’re a CPA in public practice or serving in business and industry, you need to trust the information you use. Knowing all the factors involved in information integrity can help you assess and contextualize the information you need to make sound decisions.

How is your organization filtering information in order to make the best business decisions?

Erin Mackler, CPA, Senior Manager - Business Reporting, Assurance & Advisory Services, American Institute of CPAs. Erin is the liaison for the AICPA Assurance Services Executive Committee and the Trust Information Integrity Task Force. In that capacity she assisted in the development of the SOC 2sm Guide Reporting on Controls at a Service Organization Relevant to Security, Availability, Processing Integrity, or Privacy and SOC-related initiatives.


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