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3/8/2012
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Six Things Management Needs To Better Understand About Compliance

It may be boring or scary to management, but compliance is ultimately their burden to bear

Compliance with HIPAA, PCI, and host of other regulations and laws is often seen by business leaders as just an expensive IT project. "Just throw technology at it and let me know when you’re done." Well, it doesn't work that way.

Granted, there are some IT professionals who will accept this approach because it grants them more power and reduces oversight of their work. After all, dealing with a disinterested, nontechnical boss is not fun or effective. The best-run organizations have management who knows their important role in compliance.

In my work, here are six things I believe senior management and business owners must understand to have companies that are compliant with their required standards, laws, and regulations.

1. Compliance is not a homework assignment -- it is how your organization operates every day.
Sure, you may pass an audit on occasion, but audits are not a check of how you did today. The audits are a look at how you operate day in and day out; what is the process, how is it managed, how is it tracked, and how can you prove it?

2. Management has responsibilities that cannot be delegated.
For example, it should never be your IT staff's responsibility to decide how long to keep archived emails. That is a legal decision that should be defined in management's policy, managed by IT processes, and verified by either management or someone not in IT.

3. Systems are not compliant -- organizations are compliant.
Computer systems do not operate in a vacuum. They are tools for employees. Companies are the people and their tools doing something. Compliance is about how the something works, not just the tools.

4. Employees and business processes are typically a much bigger problem for compliance and security than computer systems.
Study after study has found that network breaches and hacking result in far fewer problems than sloppy processes and employee behavior.

5. Management does not have to become technical, but it does have to demand its technical staff communicates effectively.
All too often, senior executives delegate their leadership responsibility, believing they can't possibly understand all of the details their technical staff brings to them. I contend they should not have to become technical, but they should require their technical staff be business-conversant. Plain language is the best business tool, and every specialty in a business can be discussed sensibly this way.

6. Accurate self-assessment is extremely difficult.
Think about how often someone proofreading your writing finds a problem. The same goes for the far more complex processes and procedures required for compliance. The more removed from the day-to-day aspects of a business or department, the easier it is to spot issues. Even if not required, an outside auditor (or even just someone from another department) may be more effective at a lower cost than your own staff spending hours hoping to see through their own mental filters.

Organizational leadership cannot delegate compliance; it must come from their leadership. Without the proper support, participation, and leadership, compliance becomes only more expensive, time consuming, and, sometimes, impossible.

Glenn S. Phillips, president of Forte Inc., works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within.

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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