Systems Are Not Compliant; Organizations Are Compliant
IT cannot make your organization compliant
Computer systems do not operate in a vacuum. They are neither isolated from people, disconnected from other computers, nor are they sealed off from the outside world. Rather, computer systems are tools your staff uses to run your organization. Companies are operated by people using their tools to perform tasks, create products, and provide services.
Car manufacturers and auto service departments cannot make you a good driver. Buying a high-tech kitchen will not make you a great chef, and buying a smart phone does not make you smarter. The car, oven, and phone are only tools. How well, or how poorly, you use these tools is determined by your willingness and attitude. It’s the same with the technology tools you use in your business.
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“Compliance” is defined by the laws, regulations, and rules an organization meets, so compliance is more about how things are done, than which tools are used. Of course, compliance requires the appropriate technology tools, but none of them alone can make your company compliant.
When we discuss security and compliance assessments with potential new clients, usually the first thing they do is introduce us to the person in charge of IT. The problem is, the head of IT is rarely in charge of the business processes within the organization or the management of non-technical staff. These aspects of the business, however, are crucial to compliant operations.
IT must provide secure, usable systems. They must fine tune these tools to help an organization maintain appropriate privacy, risk management, accountability, and protection. The tools must be accessible in every way necessary for effective business operations.
Unfortunately, too many (including some in IT leadership) believe a common myth: that making the tools secure creates sufficient security and compliance. This myth is sometimes a result of misunderstanding compliance, and other times it is merely a convenient excuse for handing off work by management. To be candid, many embrace this myth to avoid dealing with the real issues. “Make our systems secure,” is an easy order for a busy leader to make, but extremely often, it is a flawed decision.
System security alone will never bring a company into compliance with applicable requirements. Employees must also operate in compliant ways, must follow secure processes, and have the discipline to avoid unsecure and non-compliant shortcuts.
Technical system security alone does not make an organization compliant with any law, regulation, or rules. It is only one element in an organization’s successful compliance program.
Glenn S. Phillips, the president of Forte' Incorporated, works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. He is the author of the book Nerd-to-English and you can find him on twitter at @NerdToEnglish.