Overwhelmed by regulations? Compliance organizations are here to help

The number and scope of compliance regulations seem to constantly change. But several industry-specific compliance organizations can help you navigate the maze.

Many in IT are facing the same scenario: The constant stream of new compliance regulations makes it difficult to understand the best way to implement guidelines. While vendors offer their own take on the process (often a self-serving one), you want to talk with someone who has been through a similar situation. So where can you turn?

For decades, professional service organizations have helped executives network, problem solve and share best practices. These groups offer a variety of services such as seminars, magazines, workshops, discussion groups, job postings and even product discounts.

As compliance regulations have rapidly evolved, a handful of such organizations have emerged for the topic. Their focus is often different, their services vary, and their structures are incongruent, but they all try to help individuals navigate their way through the compliance regulation maze.

“Some of the most practical information that I have received has come from networking with my peers,” noted Robert Keefe, senior vice president and CIO at Mueller Water Products Inc.

These compliance organizations often start in an ad hoc manner. For example, in late 1995 Roy Snell took on the role of compliance officer at the University of Wisconsin.

“A cohort recommended that I call the corporate compliance officer for the University of Arizona and after talking, I felt like I had connected with a long-lost relative,” noted Snell.

From that conversation, the seeds for the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) were sewn, and Snell now serves as its CEO.

The compliance organization, which has attracted more than 6,500 members, has three goals: to promote quality compliance programs in health care; to provide a forum for interaction and information exchange among members; and to offer educational opportunities for those involved with health care industry compliance.

To meet those goals, the consortium offers educational programs, a professional network, a monthly newsletter, news updates, health care forum discussion groups, regional seminars and a profile of compliance officers that includes information about their budgets, staffs and salaries. Membership in HCCA ranges from $150 per year for students to $295 for industry executives.

In addition, HCCA has developed a certification process. More than 3,800 executives have taken the organization’s Certified in Healthcare Compliance exam, which tests individuals’ knowledge of health care compliance practices.

If that were not enough, the group has spawned an offshoot. In November 2002, the first National Symposium on Corporate Responsibility: Compliance & Ethics Programs was held. The event was sponsored by HCCA and Microsoft, and drew 100 attendees from some of the top organizations in the nation, including Amazon.com Inc., The Boeing Co., DuPont, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Starbucks Corp. and the University of Texas.

The conference grew into the Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics (SCCE), whose services feature educational programs, a professional network, a journal, weekly e-news updates, discussion groups and job postings. Through the years the SCCE has expanded to offer programs in Brazil, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Accusations of waste, fraud spawn Ethics & Compliance Officer Association

The first meeting of the Ethics & Compliance Officer Association (ECOA) was held at Bentley College in June 1991 and was co-hosted by the Center for Business Ethics and the Dreiford Group. About 30 ethics officers attended the meeting, which stemmed from a couple of government initiatives.

The ECOA's beginnings can be traced to the mid-1980s, when allegations of waste and fraud permeated the defense industry. The image led to the creation of the Defense Industry Initiative, where a group of large defense contractors developed a model for internal ethics and compliance programs designed to prevent and detect waste, fraud and other wrongdoings. In the early 1990s, the United States Sentencing Commission established guidelines for fining white-collar crimes. Companies could greatly reduce their payments if they had programs in place to prevent and detect wrongdoing.

Even back 15 years ago, it was clear that compliance was emerging as an important top management issue, and recent events have only strengthened that position.

Roy Snell, CEO, Health Care Compliance Association

ECOA aids the development of such programs. The consortium offers two types of membership: basic and sponsoring partner. The former, which costs from $750 to $950 annually, provides access to the group’s online resources that includes an electronic library, daily and weekly news feeds, a job board and the ability to attend industry, interest, regional and working group meetings.  The sponsoring partner membership, which costs from $2,500 to $4,500 annually, adds monthly webcasts, customized library reports and attendance at its sponsoring partner forum to the list of services.

SIM: 3,800 member strong, and no vendors allowed

One of the oldest groups, the Society for Information Management (SIM) has been delivering networking services to IT leaders since 1968. The forum, whose dues ranges from $80 for an individual to $25,500 for a corporation, has more than 3,800 members, including CIOs, senior IT executives, prominent academicians and consultants. The best part? Vendors cannot apply.

“We will include the CIO at a company like HP but will not take any of its salespersons,” said Keefe, a former SIM president.

The organization has 32 chapters that hold various seminars and monthly luncheons. In addition, the compliance organization conducts leadership training classes, and on occasion advocates policy and legislation on behalf of IT professionals.

Through the years, the various compliance organizations have grown in size and influence.  HCCA’s Snell said he’s not surprised.

“Even back 15 years ago, it was clear that compliance was emerging as an important top management issue, and recent events have only strengthened that position,” he said.

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who has been covering technology issues for two decades. He is based in Sudbury, Mass. Write to him at paulkorzen@aol.com.

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