Sarbanes-Oxley compliance has provided competitive advantages to companies such as Intel, Microsoft, Marathon Oil and WellPoint, according to a newly released study.

The report, by professional services provider Jefferson Wells and benchmarking research organization APQC, identified some of the best practices of these companies, including bringing SOX compliance into a broader business improvement process and establishing annual metrics.

Microsoft, for example, used SOX compliance to align its organization and resources to address the most critical risks associated with achieving the company's business objectives. Intel, Marathon and Microsoft were able to decrease their internal compliance costs by reducing the number of key controls, using business process management and leveraging integrated technology.

Rebecca Albarelli, solutions director for the finance operation at Jefferson Wells, noted that when Sarbanes-Oxley first mandated its Section 404 requirements for auditing companies' internal controls, many companies did not believe it would add much value to their businesses.

"The approach that those best-practice organizations took was that, very early on, they said, 'We are going to be very proactive so we can better leverage these efforts,'" she explained. "They made sure they had very senior support. They wanted to make sure this would be far more than a finance-driven responsibility. They would align internal controls with the entire organization and make sure everybody was involved."

Many of the companies, she noted, have learned to integrate all of their compliance requirements into one overall risk management profile. A copy of the report is available at www.jeffersonwells.com.

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