Every company has certain compliance obligations — industry specific rules, laws and regulations — that it must comply with to keep its licenses, operate in a lawful manner, and satisfy the requirements of internal and external auditing.

This may sound easy; just put your legal advisers on the task, and off you go! In reality, compliance can quickly get quite complicated, especially if nobody notices that a set of regulations relevant to your business has changed. In today’s globalized business environment, corporate compliance has evolved from simply complying with a set of NIST standards to carefully monitoring regulatory changes all over the world.

A good example of such a change is when the European Union adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018, and significantly changed European laws regarding data privacy — a change that also applied to American companies doing business in the EU. Non-compliance with the GDPR comes with large fines and other unpleasantries, so let’s take a look at how you can stay on top of compliance requirements.

What is the purpose of a compliance framework?

A compliance framework is a guide that you can use to build your compliance program, so that your program fulfills the compliance obligations you have and keeps your company safe from lawsuits, fines and other penalties stemming from non-compliance.

A compliance framework provides a methodology; an organized set of guidelines and best practices, that spells out the process by which a company can meet its regulatory requirements.

The objective is to keep a company in compliance with all regulations at all times. Some frameworks address specific areas of your business processes, such as data security; and provide the specific controls, procedures, or processes you could implement to achieve compliance with various data security standards (say, PCI-DSS or HIPAA) that might apply to your business.

An organization can use compliance frameworks to enhance security, improve business processes, and realize other business objectives, such as qualifying to bid on contracts managed by government agencies.

What goes into a compliance framework?

Most compliance frameworks can be broken down into five parts. Below is an example for a cybersecurity framework (although the same five parts can apply to many other frameworks, too).

  • Scope of work: What are the areas where your company has the highest compliance risk? Define the scope of work you need to do by asking questions such as: Do we handle HIPAA compliant data? Are there other types of personal data we need to take special steps to protect?
  • Plan what needs to be done. If you aren’t sure which compliance requirements and regulations apply to your business, turn to NIST for help developing a plan on which to base your compliance framework.
  • Do the investigative work, by interviewing staff, doing real-time checks on business processes and try your best to find out where there are holes in your compliance program.
  • Report back what you found. Use reports to set new compliance goals and start an internal conversation about the compliance requirements your business faces.
  • Repeat it all. Establish a calendar for how frequently you need to do this assessment. As regulations and compliance demands change, your compliance framework must be updated to stay current and efficient.

What are the benefits of using compliance frameworks?

When set up properly, a compliance framework provides a common language that staff can use to encourage more secure and efficient business practices, no matter which department they work in.

A company’s internal auditors may use the compliance framework to evaluate the organization’s internal controls. External auditors can also use the compliance framework to evaluate and verify a company’s internal controls.

Additionally, investors and prospective customers may use regulatory compliance frameworks to evaluate both the risk and the potential profit they may enjoy if they invest in a certain organization.

Examples of compliance frameworks

There are a number of compliance frameworks that a company’s information security team can adopt to meet regulatory requirements. One such compliance framework is the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). The PCI DSS applies to all entities involved in payment card processing, including merchants, processors, acquirers, issuers, and service providers.

The PCI DSS is designed to protect cardholder data. The PCI DSS offers guidance on securing payment card data and includes a compliance framework of specifications, measurements, tools, and support resources to enable companies to safely handle cardholder information.

COSO (the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations) has created the Internal Control Integrated Framework to help companies establish strong internal control over financial reporting, to comply with laws such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The COSO framework also addresses IT general controls, and can be used for numerous cybersecurity compliance obligations.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) also provides a regulatory compliance framework. ISO holds an extensive set of international standards designed for improving security and quality management across a number of industries.

Discover the full power of ZenGRC!

Most businesses will need to use numerous frameworks to assure their compliance with various laws, rules, and other applicable standards. The work can involve an enormous number of steps as you use frameworks to guide your compliance program. Using technology to help manage those tasks and to document your compliance is always going to be wiser than attempting to navigate these mazes manually.

Let us keep on top of your compliance landscape, and free up time for you to run your business. ZenGRC is an easy to use and very intuitive platform that gives your business a competitive advantage – schedule a free demo today!