Compliance is often viewed as a “one and done” activity – an annual rite of passage, for example, performed during yearly audits. That is an archaic approach to compliance in the modern business world, and won’t suffice any longer.

Instead, organizations must adopt a mindset of continuous compliance, where adherence to regulatory requirements becomes integral to day-to-day operations.

How can a company achieve that evolved state? This article will guide you through the advantages that continuous compliance brings, and offer six essential processes to assure ongoing compliance.

What Does Continuous Compliance Mean?

Continuous compliance takes an active approach within the organization to assess the efficiency of data protection controls. Unlike traditional compliance practices, continuous compliance entails ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

By staying vigilant, organizations can assure they meet and exceed compliance requirements, maintain a robust compliance posture, and address evolving regulatory compliance demands. In other words, continuous compliance lets organizations demonstrate their commitment to meeting compliance standards.

What Are the Benefits of Continuous Compliance?

Continuous compliance brings several significant benefits.

  1. Active risk management

    Continuous compliance drives better, earlier detection of potential risks, allowing prompt actions to be taken. This approach reduces the likelihood of fines, penalties, legal actions, reputational damage, and operational disruptions resulting from non-compliance.

  2. Strengthened security measures

    Continuous compliance enhances security by enabling organizations to monitor and implement security controls, which reduces the risk of data breaches and other security threats. Such an approach helps to safeguard sensitive information, instills stakeholder trust, and maintains a strong security posture.

  3. Efficient audits and reporting

    Continuous compliance simplifies audits by keeping an updated record of compliance activities. Organizations can respond to audit requests efficiently and demonstrate regulatory adherence with compliance documentation.

6 Steps to Ensure Continuous Compliance

To achieve continuous compliance, organizations should take the following six steps.

  1. Start with the right people

    A robust compliance program depends upon a corporate culture that respects information security. The foundation of any culture is the individuals within the organization. While senior management plays a key role in providing oversight, all employees need to recognize the importance of compliance.

    Although many employees understand the value of the compliance process, sometimes there’s a gap in their ability to implement what’s needed. In those instances, the journey toward continuous compliance begins during the initial hiring process and permeates throughout the company.

  2. Identify critical assets and data

    Effective cybersecurity compliance relies on identification, cataloging, and risk assessment. Cloud computing, however, has transformed the data storage landscape, requiring a different, more holistic understanding of physical and cloud-based data repositories. Compliance teams will need to work hard to identify all the critical assets and data in that world.

    PCI compliance is a great example. Retailers must have complete knowledge of the whereabouts of all their point-of-sale (PoS) systems. In a hybrid cloud solution, organizations must identify their physical location, private cloud infrastructure, and third-party public cloud assets. When using AWS hybrid cloud to improve operations, it’s imperative to assure solid security measures across all assets at each location.

  3. Establish control measures

    Implementing effective controls generally means following established compliance standards such as NIST, GDPR, PCI DSS, COSO, HIPAA, and ISO – but translating these requirements into actionable protections can present challenges.

    While some controls, such as firewall rules or encryption practices, may share similarities, they also have nuanced variations that depend on specific contexts. To bridge this gap, organizations should prioritize remediation efforts, vulnerability management, and robust access management protocols.

  4. Facilitate continuous data environment monitoring

    Facilitating data environment monitoring allows organizations to detect compliance issues or deviations from regulatory requirements at an early stage. Monitoring the data environment in real time makes it possible to identify potential non-compliance issues or suspicious activities as they occur.

    On the other hand, continuous monitoring of data environments provides insights into an organization’s compliance performance. By tracking relevant key performance indicators, organizations can assess their adherence to regulatory requirements, uncover patterns in compliance incidents, and gauge the effectiveness of their control measures.

  5. Maintain documentation

    Documentation proves the existence and efficacy of controls, which in turn allows organizations to prove their commitment to regulatory adherence. Examples of crucial documentation for continuous compliance include:

    • Security policies, procedures, and protocols. Clearly defined and well-documented security policies establish guidelines for safeguarding sensitive data and ensuring compliance.
    • System logs. Detailed records of system activities, including user access, changes, and events, provide insights for monitoring and identifying potential compliance issues.
    • Software configurations. Documentation of software configurations outlines the specific settings and parameters implemented to assure security and compliance standards are met.
  6. Promote effective communication within the organization

    Effective communication among stakeholders is vital for achieving continuous compliance within your organization. While appointing the right people to oversee IT compliance functions is also vital, their efforts alone aren’t sufficient without seamless communication among them.

    Unfortunately, organizations often encounter challenges with cross-departmental communication. Stakeholders frequently fail to recognize the interconnectedness of different business units.

    To address such challenges, organizations must invest in streamlined workflows and use standardized frameworks for regulatory compliance. These measures will facilitate consistent information sharing, promote department collaboration, and enhance overall compliance management.

The Components of Continuous Compliance

Continuous compliance rests on a foundation of six fundamental components.

  1. Policy and procedure

    One key to continuous compliance is assuring that organizational policies align with regulatory requirements. This means you should regularly review and update these documents to reflect changes, and then conduct compliance audits to evaluate the policies’ effectiveness.

  2. Security and access control

    Safeguarding sensitive data and preventing unauthorized access is paramount to continuous compliance. Organizations must implement security measures, such as access controls and encryption protocols, to protect against cyber-attacks.

  3. Audit and reporting

    To maintain adherence to regulatory requirements, organizations need to conduct regular compliance audits. These audits assess the organization’s compliance with relevant laws, internal policies, and industry standards. Detailed records of audit findings and remediation actions are essential for accurate reporting and demonstrating compliance during the next audit.

  4. Incident response and management

    Having a well-defined incident response plan helps mitigate the effect of cyber-attacks. Compliance with incident reporting obligations requires organizations to notify relevant parties about security incidents.

  5. Business continuity and disaster recovery

    Every business faces the risk of disruption – from key suppliers disappearing, from ransomware attacks, from weather disasters, and more. Companies need to draw up business continuity plans in advance of such scenarios, so that they can navigate such disruptions and return to “normal” operations as quickly as possible.

  6. Vendor management

    Can you believe that only 35 percent of organizations monitor the security and privacy practices of the third parties they share sensitive or confidential information with? To keep your company’s security in check, conduct a vendor risk assessment and ensure a privacy agreement is in place.

How ZenGRC Enables Continuous Compliance

The ZenGRC is a compliance management solution that provides tools to streamline compliance processes. It provides role-based authorizations, allowing individuals within your organization to access the specific compliance information necessary to assure that your compliance controls, policies, and procedures function as expected.

The ZenGRC is equipped with a range of compliance frameworks such as ISO, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and NIST. It provides comprehensive features, including cybersecurity risk assessments, internal audit templates, and document management.

Get a demo to learn how the ZenGRC can help you create a solid organizational compliance program.