Evidence collection is the act of documenting an organization’s compliance processes and outcomes. Evidence collection is one of the best methods an organization can use to demonstrate that it is taking compliance seriously. 

An organization will likely encounter several challenges when it sets out to collect evidence and build an evidence-collection process. Evidence collection is one of the most challenging parts of a successful compliance program.

As an organization embarks on its journey of evidence collection, it is essential to recognize that this endeavor has its challenges. In the crucible of evidence collection, an organization confronts some of the most intricate and demanding aspects of a successful compliance program. From the meticulous gathering of information to crafting comprehensive documentation, this phase requires a holistic approach and a keen eye for detail.

Companies can mitigate many problems with evidence collection by implementing compliance management software, as manually managing any aspect of the process is prone to errors. 

What is compliance evidence?

Compliance evidence proves your organization meets regulatory, legal, and contractual obligations. Proper compliance evidence management is crucial for demonstrating adherence to compliance requirements across your regulatory compliance program lifecycle.

Compliance evidence can take many forms, including audit reports, licenses, certifications, policies, training records, monitoring logs, testing results, and more. The key is collecting and retaining documentation that shows your compliance controls are working effectively.

Robust compliance evidence enables you to readily provide regulators, auditors, and other stakeholders with proof of compliance. Evidence collection and retention help mitigate compliance risk by giving you the documentation to show due diligence.

Why is collecting compliance evidence such a daunting challenge?

Gathering the proper regulatory compliance evidence to meet obligations across your compliance program lifecycle is often easier said than done. Several factors make evidence collection and management a complex, tedious task for many organizations:

  • Massive Data Volumes: The flood of unstructured compliance data that must be digitally collected and managed continues to grow exponentially. This makes evidence management difficult.
  • Multiple Data Sources: Compliance evidence may reside in emails, file shares, collaboration platforms, databases, etc. Pulling data from these disparate systems is a huge headache.
  • Manual Processes: Many compliance teams still use manual processes like spreadsheets for compliance evidence collection. This could be more efficient and error-prone.
  • Lack of Centralization: Evidence tends to be scattered and siloed across the organization. This makes it hard to get a unified view of compliance.
  • Poor Traceability: If compliance evidence custody and lineage are not properly tracked, its credibility can be questioned by auditors.
  • Regulatory Changes: New and evolving regulations like GDPR require constantly updating evidence-gathering approaches. This makes change management a challenge.
  • Resource Constraints: Many compliance teams lack the time, budget, and skills to collect evidence properly.

The importance of compliance evidence management

Robust compliance evidence management is crucial for organizations seeking to meet regulatory obligations and pass audits.

Proper evidence collection, retention, and organization provide vital advantages. It demonstrates compliance by making evidence readily accessible to prove adherence to regulators and auditors. Digitized evidence also facilitates efficient preparation for smooth audit performance.

Comprehensive evidence supports regulatory inquiries and internal investigations. Documenting controls through evidence mitigates potential penalties, fines, and reputational damage from non-compliance.

Centralized evidence enhances visibility into compliance across the organization. Digital proof adapts more easily as regulations evolve, simplifying change management.

Automating evidence workflows increases efficiency by saving compliance teams significant time and effort. It also lowers costs by reducing manual tasks.

Online evidence repositories allow secure internal and external collaboration and sharing. Electronic evidence also has user access controls and redundancy to prevent loss, strengthening security.

What is an example of compliance evidence management?

Content management systems and shared drives are great for storing and creating some types of documents. However, since these systems aren’t made specifically for evidence collection and compliance programs, companies that use them risk losing track of critical documents and artifacts. In addition, document storage systems do not provide audit workflows and framework mapping features.  

If/when auditors or regulators discover compliance violations, using a tool such as evidence collection can mean the difference between a company paying a considerable fine and not paying any fine. 

For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) allows data regulators in each European Union (EU) country to fine companies that don’t comply with the regulation. One of the requirements of the GDPR is that an organization must have standard evidence collection and event reporting procedures in place in the event of a breach.

Under the GDPR, every company in the EU must adhere to strict rules to safeguard the personal data and privacy of people living in one of the EU member states. 

Suppose a company that provides services to EU citizens suffers a data breach, and that organization isn’t compliant with the GDPR. In that case, it can be fined up to €20 million ($22.07 million) or 4% of the worldwide annual revenue of the prior financial year, whichever is greater. However, the data regulators don’t levy a fine against every organization immediately after a breach. 

A company is less likely to be hit with a massive fine if it has been diligent about evidence collection and can prove it has the proper processes and security measures to protect people’s data. A company that has implemented evidence-collection procedures can also demonstrate to regulators the steps its employees follow to stay compliant with the GDPR.

Best practices for compliance evidence management

Managing compliance evidence is a crucial yet challenging aspect of regulatory compliance programs. To help build a practical evidence management framework, organizations should follow these essential best practices:

Standardize Regulatory Compliance Evidence Collection

  • Create intake procedures to gather evidence from systems and personnel digitally.
  • Incorporate compliance tools to automate regulatory evidence collection.
  • Ensure metadata like custodian timestamp is captured for chain of custody.
  • Allow various evidence types – documents, audit logs, training records, etc.

Centralize Evidence in a Repository

  • Use a searchable platform like Microsoft SharePoint or Amazon Web Services (AWS) evidence management systems.
  • Avoid scattered evidence storage like local drives or spreadsheets.
  • Simplifies oversight, retention, and access for audits and law enforcement agencies.

Structure and Organize Regulatory Compliance Evidence

  • Logically categorize evidence using tags naming conventions aligned to compliance standards.
  • Standardize file plans and structures organization-wide.
  • Add descriptive metadata like compliance domain, department, etc.
  • Enables quick search and findability.

Control and Restrict Access to Sensitive Compliance Evidence

  • Leverage access controls and permission levels.
  • Limit internal sharing only to personnel involved in the compliance program.
  • Carefully manage external sharing with auditors, regulators, and other stakeholders.
  • Helps maintain confidentiality and supports compliance requirements.

Continuously Review and Optimize Compliance Evidence Management

  • Set reminders to regularly review evidence of health, coverage gaps, retention needs, and compliance risks.
  • Assess intake workflows and tools like auto-capture for potential enhancements.
  • Update procedures to account for regulatory changes and new compliance requirements.

Manage and maintain compliance with ZenGRC

Compliance management software automates the main parts of the process, alerting users when a specific piece of documentation must be finished. Compliance management software also enables users to tag and sort evidence so it’s easy to locate.

Startups or small organizations sometimes use different tools to manage evidence collection and compliance programs. Consequently, it can be difficult for those companies to integrate those tools. 

Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) tools enable organizations to track, manage, and assess information security compliance and remediate risk. These GRC tools simplify evidence collection and audits and enable risk management.

To fight cybercrime and collect relevant digital evidence, schedule a demo today!