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Five Best Practices for Compliance Management

Our 2021 Compliance Benchmark Report provided significant insights on how organizations are navigating the current compliance landscape, as well as how they are preparing for the future. By surveying more than 200 cybersecurity, IT, quality assurance, internal audit, finance, and other professionals, we discovered a great deal about what makes compliance programs run smoothly and efficiently, and where there may be areas for improvement for businesses of all sizes and across all industries.  

Here are five compliance management best practices gleaned from the 2021 Compliance Benchmark Report that you can use to improve your organization’s compliance program.  

Best Practice #1: Combine Audits for Greater Efficiency  

One of the standout findings from our Compliance Benchmark Report was the revelation that many organizations are not taking advantage of opportunities to streamline their audit efforts while achieving the same results. 85% of respondents to our survey said they conduct more than one audit every year, but just 14% consolidate their audits into a single annual event.  

We highly recommend taking a strategic, year-round approach to preparation in which your organization consolidates audits and assessments wherever possible. A Master Audit Plan (MAP) is an invaluable tool that can be used to: 

  • Gain greater visibility into the efforts required from various teams  
  • Determine what is needed for each audit 
  • Identify evidence that can be repurposed across audits  

50% of our survey respondents said they spend one to two months preparing for each audit or assessment and 17% noted they spend six months or more preparing for each audit or assessment. Clearly, using a MAP for more efficient compliance management has the potential to save your organization substantial time and resources.  

Best Practice #2: Leverage SOC 2 to Build Customer Trust  

When we asked our survey audience about the audit, attestation, or assessment they believe is most important to their organization, the top answer by a wide margin was SOC 2. Nearly half (47%) of respondents said that SOC 2 is mission critical to the success of their business.  

Having a SOC 2 report indicates a high level of maturity in an organization’s IT security, which is why this voluntary standard is often used to build trust with prospects and customers by demonstrating that an organization has sufficient data protection mechanisms in place. One-third of the professionals who took our survey said that SOC 2 is typically the number one report or certification that customers want to see when performing data security due diligence.  

In fact, SOC 2 has become so trustworthy in information security circles that, although it is a U.S.-based standard, some European organizations are now being asked to obtain SOC 2 reports — especially in highly regulated industries.  

Best Practice #3: Use Technology to Automate Tedious Tasks  

One of the biggest obstacles organizations face during the audit process is repetitive and manual evidence collection since these tasks eat up significant time and resources. In fact, 27% of our survey respondents said that evidence collection is the greatest challenge of their audit process.  

To streamline these tasks and free up staff hours to focus on more strategic initiatives, consider utilizing audit automation and compliance management software to centralize evidence collection. This technology gives your organization the ability to effortlessly link one or more pieces of evidence to multiple audit requests. However, despite the opportunities associated with audit automation and compliance management software, not many organizations are taking advantage of automation software; just 25% of respondents to our survey said they use a software solution to prepare for audits.  

Worth noting is that automation software should always be used in tandem with an experienced compliance partner to ensure no corners are cut and that your compliance program is maturing as a whole. For example, when planning for SOC 2, be wary of software companies that claim their fully-automated SOC 2 software can take you through the entire audit process in just a few weeks. While automation tools can be useful for retrieving data that is required during the audit, it’s best to leverage the expertise of professional auditors who will ensure your SOC 2 process is thoughtfully planned and carefully executed for maximum efficiency.  

Best Practice #4: Prepare for the Future of Privacy Compliance   

Our Compliance Benchmark Report found that a whopping 71% of organizations believe that a rising focus on privacy across the globe has impacted their compliance practices and audits. 48% say that increased requirements related to privacy have resulted in additional compliance needs for their business.  

As a result, organizations are recognizing the need to make data privacy a significant priority in 2022 and beyond. However, 44% of our survey respondents say limited staff resources pose a major challenge to their audit process, and 18% agree that their compliance team doesn’t have the skills and training needed to deal with privacy.  

We recommend that you continue to monitor the latest news about the evolution of global and U.S. privacy regulations that could affect your organization. If you have questions about whether an upcoming law will apply to your business, reach out to your compliance partner to determine if it’s time to start laying the groundwork for these requirements within your compliance program.  

Best Practice #5: Review the End Goals of Your Compliance Program  

When we asked our survey audience, “What is the driving force behind your organization’s compliance program?” responses were fairly evenly distributed across a few key areas:  

  • Adhere to regulatory requirements (19%) 
  • Meet board-level mandates (16%)  
  • Establish trust with prospects and customers (15%)  

That being said, we also found that 64% of respondents have used an audit or assessment to win new business — even if that’s not the primary driver of their compliance program. In much the same way that a MAP can be used to get all departments on the same page and devise a strategy to check multiple compliance boxes at once, we advise your organization’s leadership to collectively ask, “how can we get the most out of our compliance management efforts?”  

Many organizations approach audits and assessments in a reactive manner — 23% of respondents say their audits are driven by customer requests rather than internal management. For example, during the sales process, a prospect might request compliance with a specific framework, such as SOC 2 or HITRUST, generating an all-hands-on-deck effort to complete the necessary audit or assessment. 

Instead, consider investing more time up front researching the accredited assessments and certifications that carry the most weight in the eyes of your target audience. Then you can balance these needs with more stringent regulatory requirements in your overarching compliance management strategy.  

A New Year’s Resolution for More Proactive Compliance Management 

Compliance shouldn’t feel like a burden. When approached thoughtfully and deliberately, your compliance program can support business growth and serve as proof that your organization is fully committed to cybersecurity. It starts with effective compliance management, combined with proactive consideration about what your compliance program should look like several years down the line.  

We know you may not be a compliance expert, and that’s okay — because we are! A-LIGN can review your organization’s current compliance efforts, help identify gaps, and work with you to determine how compliance can contribute to desired outcomes in other areas of your business.