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Four steps to ensure IT investments benefit regulatory compliance

The digital age complicates GRC management, and many organizations are turning to new tech to assist regulatory compliance processes. Jeffrey Ritter explains how companies can ensure these new IT investments meet the business's regulatory needs.

Modern companies face increasing regulatory compliance challenges, as factors such as global operations and the increased reliance on digital records complicate data management. As a result, many companies struggle with compliance, particularly when it is time to acquire new technology designed to help adhere to regulations. To assist with this process, organizations can use four key building blocks to ensure these tech investments improve compliance operations.

Understand the business role in data management

First, understand that your company is the custodian for records and information that regulators rely on to evaluate compliance. Many business executives fail to understand that regulators do not go out and pound the streets looking for evidence of non-compliance. Instead, they rely on the data and records produced by businesses -- and how it is maintained -- as evidence of whether operations are compliant.

Regulatory compliance strategy often fails because companies simply do not keep required records of business processes. For technology-enabled compliance to succeed, companies must be sure the tools create and maintain digital records that can be used as compliance evidence.

For technology-enabled compliance to succeed, companies must be sure the tools create and maintain digital records that can be used as compliance evidence.

When considering a compliance-oriented IT investment, it should be evaluated by every team that touches digital records, including enterprise architects, legal representatives, information security professionals, records managers and auditors. A consensus must be achieved that essential records will be properly managed by the new technology, as well as demonstrate compliance with all external rules.

Ensure IT supports corporate compliance policy

Second, the technology platform must adhere to corporate policies and procedures. No compliance-oriented tool set can simply be dropped into an operating environment and expected to alleviate regulatory compliance risk.

Instead, before investing in new technology, a company must first adopt policies and procedures to serve as the basis on which compliance software is implemented. The policies and procedures should indicate how compliance will be measured, as well as how those measurements will be reported and evaluated by those responsible for compliance.

Clear policies and procedures also become useful during the technology's evaluation process. For example, many companies include policy/procedure guidelines in vendor proposal requests when considering an IT investment. They can also serve as effective guidelines for internal development teams. A typical question asked of both vendors and internal teams is, "Explain how the software will produce compliance with our established policies and procedures."

Secure written commitment from the provider

Third, companies must secure a written commitment from the vendor to adhere to corporate policies and procedures. Time and again, vendors market their products as enabling compliance with one or more specific regulations but then fail to make parallel commitments in their commercial contracts. The key is to have specific compliance metrics established in policies and procedures, then transfer those requirements into the vendor's contract to show how the company will evaluate whether the IT investment meets corporate policy and procedure guidelines.

The goal is to create a basis on which the company can insist that vendor performance reaches minimum requirements. When purchasing products or services from third parties in the digital age, synergy is vital. The vendor becomes an extension of your operations, particularly if cloud-based services are involved. Create contractual mechanisms for governing the relationship, rather than simply arming lawyers with weapons for lawsuits and litigation.

Conduct regulatory compliance simulations

Fourth, conduct simulations or roll-out exercises that evaluate whether the technology does, in fact, produce the types of information and records required for your company to demonstrate compliance.

Once it is determined that the technology executes required compliance processes, simulations must then test the functionality of how they relate to other business functions: Are operating logs secured? Are controls blocking unauthorized access? Are compliance logs properly classified for archiving? Can the operating logs, compliance logs and other relevant information assets be recovered and produced within defined time frames?

These added steps are often outside the control of the technology solution (or any third-party vendors), but are essential to assure compliance. Building and conducting a full roll-out scenario can help integrate the compliance software into overarching business processes.

Compliance with any regulation requires creating and maintaining information records that demonstrate corporate policies and procedures follow specific requirements. It's important to remember that creating metrics, building the required reports, and then constructing the collaborative, remedial mechanisms that will be used if performance falls short can be time-consuming. The time invested in doing so, however, can often make the difference in whether technology investment effectively assists regulatory compliance.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, site editor. For more regulatory compliance news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ITCompliance.

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