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3/25/2013
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Mission Impossible: 4 Reasons Compliance Is Impossible

Compliance, like security, is not a constant

It happened again. I heard a boastful manager tell the CEO the job was finished and with great confidence brag to his boss their organization was fully compliant. The CEO nodded with increasing approval, mentally embracing the idea that his worries on the matter were behind him for good. No money-grubbing consultant was going to fool him about “risks,” and technical managers would no longer dare ask for larger budgets for compliance needs. In his mind, the task had now been addressed and the goal reached, never to look back again.

If only the CEO had paid enough attention to the realities of situation rather than so quickly accepting a convenient delusion.

Maybe not today, maybe not this week, but soon, this CEO will pay for this mistake many times over. And worse, as long as he maintains his distance from the reality of the issue, this CEO will never understand the associated costs are completely his fault. Protecting his company in a meaningful way, and avoiding perhaps millions in unnecessary expenses, was his responsibility and was completely within his power to accomplish. He simply didn’t take the time to understand one simple fact about his company: compliance, like security, is not a constant.

No organization is completely compliant, just as total security is not possible. Why, you ask? It is really very simple.

1. People are involved. Technology can do many wonderful things, but at the end of the day it is only a tool created by people, used by people, and dependent on people. People make mistakes. Some lie, cheat, and steal. Others are incompetent or apathetic. Even the hardest working and most conscientious will occasionally make a mistake. Compliance and security are never complete because people are a big part of the risk chain.

2. Change is constant. Even an organization that somehow (magically) becomes completely secure and fully compliant in technology, procedures, and behavior today, by tomorrow, there will be new variables and new risks. Employees come and go, behaviors change day-to-day, technology advances, and risks keep evolving.

3. Compliance is interpreted, not defined. While laws and regulations can be extremely detailed and address a large number of circumstances, they can never completely define how to address every situation.

You may be able to complete a compliance or security checklist, but that will not make you fully compliant. It merely makes your list of identified issues or tasks complete. There will remain regulations you must choose how to apply to your company’s unique situation, problems that require unique solutions.

4. Technology is a tool, not a complete solution. I see way too many corporate leaders and technology managers who presume technology alone is responsible for data security and operational compliance.

Too many non-technical business leaders want an easy fix, a magic pill, they can just order up and consider the issues addressed. Likewise, I regularly see technology leaders who are all too happy focusing only on their tools. They are ill-equipped, or sometimes simply disinterested, in working with the aspects of compliance that involve their personnel.

The best leaders save money and time by understanding that compliance and security are processes, not outcomes. These processes continually change because people, risk, and technology continually change. Full compliance is impossible. However outstanding compliance behavior is not only possible, but also healthy and cost-effective.

Glenn S. Phillips knows perfect writing is impossible, but he keeps trying. He is the president of Forte' Incorporated where he works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand the often hidden risks awaiting them. Glenn is the author of the book Nerd-to-English and you can find him on twitter at @NerdToEnglish.

Glenn works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand the often hidden risks awaiting them. The Founder and Sr. Consultant of Forte' Incorporated, Glenn and his team work with business leaders to support growth, increase profits, and address ... View Full Bio

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