Compliance Automation and its Benefits for Reporting


What keeps compliance professionals up at night? Is it stressful stakeholder meetings, keeping abreast of the latest changes in the world of compliance regulation, reporting bad news to the stakeholders within their organizations?

Those are certainly angst-inspiring.

For most, though, there’s always the nagging worry in the back of your mind that, despite your best efforts, you’ll misreport an issue, or not report it completely or accurately. Imagine – a week after you deliver your opinion on a process, new data emerges or, worse – old, forgotten data resurfaces from some cluttered corner of someone’s inbox or desktop file.

The Need for Compliance Information – Right Here, Right Now  

The reality is that the challenges of compliance management require you to distill lots of details into meaningful conclusions for auditors to understand – accurately, completely, and on a deadline. You’re expected to have a mile-deep understanding of each area of the company AND have mile-wide coverage AT THE SAME TIME. They’re only asking for perfection, right?

But, what most kept me up at night, when concluding on an area I had audited, was giving that area the ‘all clear’ – the Green Light – telling the process owners that they were doing a good job and fulfilling their duties.

On my teams, we called it the Green Badge of Courage.

Before we made that determination and assigned that conclusion, I spent hours double-checking testing spreadsheets, emails, and Word documents to make sure we didn’t leave behind any loose ends, that we didn’t leave any testing unperformed.

The Holy Grail of Project Management?

I knew we needed a better system, an application, a solution designed for what we did, that I could trust to show me our procedures, results, etc. I had a feeling it existed somewhere, but knew I didn’t have the time to find it, because I was spending that time doing what it would have done for me – tracking my project, tracking my results, giving me the peace of mind that comes with competent organization.

In my last two compliance project management posts, on project planning and project execution, we didn’t spend much time on how to automate your compliance project. That becomes really important when you go to tie together all the loose ends and report on your results. I’m sure everyone out there has seen the wonders of Word and Excel, and those will take you quite far, much further than the binders of three-hole punched paper they replaced. But, it’s 2017, and there are solutions in the market that are specialized to support compliance and all its intricacies.

If you’re a company that accepts, processes, stores, or transmits credit card payments, for example, do you really want to trust those spreadsheets and emails to fulfill your PCI DSS requirements or other regulatory requirements that come from compliance regulations and have a penalty?

The Case for Compliance Automation

The best automated compliance solutions, those specially designed to replace those spreadsheets, can evolve into a single source of truth – a system of record – for your compliance group and your organization. They can provide you with peace of mind by tracking all compliance activity in one place: regulations, policies, standards, contracts and clauses that may have once resided within web browser bookmarks, Word documents, or worse, in some binder that’s carefully guarded because no one knows what happened to the electronic version of the files after Phil left in the final days of the last Bush administration.

Automation brings benefits. As Max Blecher, a managing director at Virtual Alliance recently told IT Web, automation, in the form of compliance functionality embedded into the SDLC process or developed into standalone compliance management solutions, is enhancing data analytics procedures, making compliance reporting more timely, and making compliance generally less costly.       

In addition to the efficiencies and real-time responses that come with automation, automated compliance solutions help you get your arms around the data – all the data – that is out there, collected during the interviews, testing, and closing meetings of your project – from what the guy in the mailroom told you, to what the top-floor boardroom said when you presented your initial findings.

Helping You Sleep Better at Night

There’s also a level of assurance that comes when you’re able to connect and compare the data delivered from your compliance efforts with relevant information gathered by other groups like Internal Controls or Internal Audit. Not only does an automated compliance solution bring data faster, but it can arm you with more and better data, in the form of meaningful and insightful key performance indicators, KPIs. Having information available when, where, and how you want it can be invaluable. When the CFO calls you from the conference room line to ask you a question that’s just been asked in his meeting, you’ll want a single source of truth. You won’t want to be rifling through your inbox, spreadsheets, or a file folder full of reports to find that answer.

As Troy Leach from CSO recently pointed out, key performance indicators should go beyond assigning a pass/fail grade on a compliance report or evidence that a new technology promising better data security has been successfully implemented. When an organization has effective technology and devotes the time to designing the right KPIs, like tracking the number of systems with access to cardholder data, this is a start to identifying areas where security can be improved, as well as making it easier to demonstrate compliance.

When you’re fielding questions as you wrap up your PCI compliance reporting, looking for evidence to support compliance for example, you can use automated compliance solutions to look up the latest testing and reporting around firewall configurations, cardholder data storage security, and physical access data controls. You’ll also be able to access related internal audit findings, so you can invest your time developing that mile-deep understanding of the data needed to compose your questionnaires and attestations, rather than sifting through the noise of conversations, notes, emails and Excel spreadsheets, only to arrive at that inch-deep knowledge of the topic.

There are a lot of procedures, habits, and tools you can develop on your own to track your compliance procedures and results, but wouldn’t you rather put that time into managing your team, and improving your procedures? With compliance automation, you can do just that. That’s better than worrying throughout and after the reporting process that you’ll be subject to bad publicity or worse, for an issue that better organization of your data may have resolved or, at least, identified.