How to Build a Compliance Program that Meets Your Business Expansion Goals

  • March 14, 2024
Author

Anna Fitzgerald

Senior Content Marketing Manager at Secureframe

Reviewer

Rob Gutierrez

Senior Compliance Manager at Secureframe

As your business expands, so does your compliance risk. Strategic business decisions like expanding into international markets and new industries or expanding your service offerings often entails adhering to new or changing regulations and customer expectations. This requires you to understand how different decisions affect your existing compliance program and to fill in any gaps. 

GRC teams typically face this burden of understanding how changes affect the business. There are steps they can take when building a compliance program that can help simplify this gap analysis. Let’s walk through them below. 

1. Create a source of truth for compliance data

To start, GRC teams should centralize and organize framework and regulatory requirements, controls, and evidence in one place. Having a source of truth makes it easier for GRC teams to pinpoint and address gaps in their existing compliance program as they scale.

If trying to do this manually using spreadsheets and file storage services like Google Drive, the GRC team will have to standardize how they compile data, manage multiple spreadsheets, ensure files are always up-to-date, archive any old ones, implement processes for prioritization, collaboration, and accountability, and more. They’ll also struggle to get an accurate and continuous view of their compliance status and likely end up managing their compliance program in silos. 

A better solution is using a compliance automation platform that integrates with the audit-relevant softwares and tools you use every day. This platform can act as your compliance source of truth, with standardized and up-to-date framework requirements, controls, and evidence. Having this repository is particularly helpful as you strive to comply with more frameworks over time since it enables you to see where you stand with any new frameworks and how they overlap with existing frameworks that you already comply with. 

A survey conducted by UserEvidence confirmed that this was a key decision factor for Secureframe users to implement automation. When asked what challenges led them to purchase Secureframe, 55% of Secureframe users reported a lack of a centralized, single source of truth in storing and managing security compliance data.

2. Standardize how you collect evidence 

To achieve and maintain compliance, organizations must collect and retain evidence that shows their controls are working effectively over time. Several factors make evidence collection a complex and tedious task, including the volume of compliance data, disparate systems, and data silos. These challenges only become more acute as an organization’s tech stack increases and compliance program becomes more complex and custom as the organization expands into new markets and industries.

To overcome these challenges, GRC teams typically have to dedicate the majority of their time to taking and organizing screenshots into Dropbox or Google Drive folders and then manually creating and updating spreadsheets to catalog this evidence for every assessment. 

Using a compliance automation platform that integrates with other systems and tools can help automate evidence collection for various frameworks. By reducing the manual overhead of proving adherence to controls, automated evidence collection can significantly reduce the costs and efforts of managing a compliance program, even as the organization scales. 

A survey of Secureframe users conducted by UserEvidence substantiated that evidence collection was a driving factor for automation and technology adoption. When asked what the most important Secureframe features are to them, 79% of Secureframe users rated automated evidence collection as one of the most important Secureframe features to them. 

3. Create a policy library

A policy library is a key part of any compliance program. Policies outline what you do to protect customer data and must be documented, formally reviewed, and accepted by employees in order to meet compliance requirements.

Different frameworks have different policy requirements. SOC 2, for example, may require you to have over a dozen policies in place, including a business continuity plan, disaster recovery plan, and vendor management policy.

Meeting these policy requirements takes a significant amount of time since you have to create these policies, regularly maintain them to ensure they are always up-to-date, and distribute them to ensure employees review and accept them. This may require you to:

  • Create policies from scratch
  • Collaborate with multiple stakeholders to incorporate their input
  • Review and approve policies
  • Assign policy owners
  • Track changes
  • Track employee policy acceptance
  • Send employee reminders 

A compliance automation tool can help simplify all these aspects of policy management. The best tools provide policy templates, a policy editor for quickly customizing policies and leaving comments, the ability to assign owners, and version history to track changes. You may also be able to track which employees have accepted your policy and send reminders to those who still need to in the same place that you create those policies. As your compliance program scales and the number of internal policies and employees increases, a tool like this can simplify and streamline policy management. 

The UserEvidence survey confirmed that robust policy management capabilities was a major benefit of compliance automation. When asked to select the most important Secureframe features to them, 68% of Secureframe users chose policy management.

4. Set up a process for continuous monitoring

Another critical aspect of compliance management is continuously monitoring that appropriate controls are in place and operating effectively. This requires both manual and automated processes.

Without automation, GRC teams must rely on manually intensive testing procedures and combat issues of complexity, efficiency, accuracy, and costs. 

A compliance automation platform can help make continuous monitoring more cost-effective, consistent, and efficient. By monitoring controls in real time, an automation platform provides a much more dynamic view of the effectiveness of controls and the overall security posture of your organization. It can also automatically alert your organization of non-conformities or misconfigurations to keep you from falling out of compliance with any relevant frameworks or regulations. 

Given these benefits, it’s not surprising that 84% of Secureframe users in the UserEvidence survey reported continuous monitoring to detect and remediate misconfigurations as an important Secureframe feature to them, making it the top answer. 

5. Establish risk management processes

The goal of any compliance program is to ensure an organization is effectively protecting their business, employees, and customers. A critical factor in achieving this is having visibility into internal and external risks.

That’s why many compliance frameworks include requirements for risk management. Organizations need to show that they understand their risk and are proactively taking measures to reduce risk and strengthen their security compliance posture, like putting mitigating security controls in place. 

Having a comprehensive risk management strategy in place can help your organization meet these requirements and reduce risk. A risk management strategy addresses how an organization intends to identify, assess, respond to, and monitor risk and may also prescribe policies, procedures, and methodologies for performing these risk assessment, risk response, and risk monitoring activities. 

Manually tracking risks in static spreadsheets and other traditional risk management processes are typically not enough to keep your business safe as it scales or to meet the risk management criteria for compliance frameworks such as SOC 2® and ISO 27001. That’s because manual processes are time-consuming, resource-intensive, and prone to error, and their outputs are quickly outdated. 

Using automation can significantly enhance your risk management strategy. Risk management automation tools can automatically gather information from different sources, figure out which risks are most important, suggest ways to reduce or handle these risks, and monitor risks over time. Some of these tools also incorporate AI capabilities to automate risk assessments or other parts of the risk management process. 

Given that automation improves the accuracy, efficiency, and effectiveness of risk management, it makes sense that 50% of Secureframe users in the UserEvidence survey reported risk management as an important Secureframe feature to them.

6. Implement a vendor risk management program

The average organization does business with 11 third parties, and 98% of organizations do business with a third party who has suffered a breach.

In order to protect their data and customers, organizations must prioritize vendor risk management. The process involves multiple steps, including:

  • Creating a risk profile for each vendor
  • Creating contracts that outline the specifics of your business relationship and compliance expectations 
  • Sharing only necessary access to data with vendors
  • Establishing a vendor selection process, including creating documentation for choosing future vendors, collecting vendor details, and establishing ongoing reporting processes
  • Monitoring vendor compliance and performance over time
  • Offboarding vendors as necessary
  • Monitoring and refining your VRM program based on key metrics

Vendor risk management can be a heavy burden on your organization, requiring employees to spend countless hours collecting, organizing, updating, and sifting through data. 

Automating this process can save your teams time and speed up the process of assessing a vendor’s risk profile and onboarding new vendors. Compliance automation can help you:

  • Easily store and review vendor documentation to ensure they’re compliant
  • Get risk recommendations based on the vendor assessment information you provide
  • Easily monitor and track third-party personnel system access
  • Continuously monitor your vendors’ security posture and their compliance with regulatory and industry frameworks

The value of compliance automation on vendor management was supported by our UserEvidence survey findings as well. 55% of Secureframe users reported vendor risk management and vendor access management as important features to them.

7. Map controls to framework requirements

As organizations expand their service offerings or enter new markets and industries, they are challenged with managing a security compliance program that must meet additional or changing regulatory and customer requirements. This can lead to organizations wasting valuable time and resources creating independent sets of controls, performing redundant tests, gathering the same evidence, and repeating other activities for multiple audits and compliance. 

One way to simplify the process is control mapping. Control mapping involves mapping the control set of one regulatory framework to the requirements of another framework in order to identify common controls. Doing so can help reduce duplicate work and speed up time-to-compliance for multiple frameworks with common controls. 

While you can manually map controls to framework requirements and tests, a compliance automation platform can automate this process, reducing the time it takes and potential for human error.

As a result of Secureframe’s control mapping and other automation capabilities, 89% of Secureframe users surveyed by UserEvidence said they sped up time-to-compliance for multiple frameworks by at least 10%. Over half (53%) said they sped up time-to-compliance by 76% or more. 

8. Implement a system for remediating issues as quickly as possible

Compliance management involves monitoring hundreds of controls, tests, vendors, personnel, physical assets, cloud resources, vulnerabilities, tasks, and more spread across different environments and teams. This requires a standardized approach to tracking tasks, issues, and everything else that goes into compliance so you can ensure accountability and fast remediation while reducing duplicate work. 

A compliance automation platform can automate workflow tasks, like assigning tasks, tracking progress, and sending notifications, to ensure that compliance issues are addressed promptly and consistently across your organization.

A compliance automation platform may even offer step-by-step remediation guidance so you can quickly fix cybersecurity issues and speed up time-to-compliance. Secureframe goes one step further with ComplyAI, which provides remediation guidance in the form of infrastructure as code (IaC) for Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure. Users can easily copy and paste Comply AI’s generated code to resolve underlying misconfigurations and failing controls. 

As a result of these automation and AI capabilities, 97% of Secureframe users in the UserEvidence survey said they reduced time spent on compliance tasks per month, with 76% saying they reduced that time by at least half. 

9. Create a culture of compliance

Employees play a crucial role in ensuring that businesses comply with regulatory and framework requirements. Building a culture of compliance is the most effective way to ensure employees are compliant, but this is a significant challenge, requiring organizations to embed compliance into everyday workflows and set expectations for individual behavior across the enterprise.

Documenting policies and procedures, consistently updating them, and ensuring that employees review and accept them is an important step in building a culture of compliance at your organization.

Providing employee training on a recurring basis is another pillar of a compliance culture, since it helps to reinforce the information laid out in policies and procedures. Most compliance frameworks require organizations to conduct and track completion of employee training to ensure their workforce is up-to-date on security and privacy best practices. 

To sustain a culture of compliance, you’ll need to enforce accountability. This will require tracking that personnel complete the tasks they need to, including accepting policies, completing security training, and completing a background check. You’ll also want to track that every employee has the required devices for their tasks and that these devices adhere to compliance regulations.

Compliance automation software can simplify these aspects of personnel and device management so you can more easily ensure your employees are compliant. This type of tool can automate employee onboarding and enable you to efficiently manage background checks, training, and policy acceptance in compliance with different frameworks and regulations. It can also automatically pull information from your integrations with endpoint management platforms, cloud service providers, and version control tools to provide a single view for you to track and manage your employee devices, cloud resources, and code repositories.

When asked what the most important features were to them, Secureframe users selected a variety of features related to ensuring employees are compliant, including:

10. Build customizability into your compliance program

While there are many standard frameworks with prebuilt control sets like SOC 2, ISO 27001, PCI DSS, and NIST 800-53 that your organization may need to comply with, these may only address some of the security concerns you face. Particularly as your company scales, your operations will become more intricate and involve diverse environments, larger teams, and greater risks. This may require you to create a compliance program with custom requirements, controls, and tests tailored to your unique business needs.

Building these custom frameworks and proving adherence to them can be incredibly difficult — especially if you have to start from scratch.

Compliance automation software can offer customization options that meet the specific needs and requirements of different industries and regulatory environments and automation capabilities that simplify and speed up time-to-compliance. For example, with Secureframe, customers can create custom frameworks, controls, and tests and map these controls and tests to the frameworks. Or they can map pre-built controls and tests in the Secureframe platform to their custom frameworks to reduce duplicate work while ensuring that their compliance program reflects their unique business requirements accurately. 

These customization options are valuable to Secureframe customers, with 39% of Secureframe users reporting that customization was one of the most important features to them.

How Secureframe can scale with your business

A compliance automation solution can help give GRC teams time back by reducing the effort required to understand how strategic business decisions affect their existing compliance program.

Secureframe helps thousands of organizations scale a security and compliance program while reducing operational costs. With Secureframe, you can improve operational efficiency with automated evidence collection and control health monitoring via 200+ native integrations and the Secureframe API and speed up cloud remediation, risk assessments, policy management, and questionnaires with our AI capabilities. 

You can also get complete, up-to-date visibility into your risk profile and compliance posture so you can scale securely with:

  • Dashboards to get direct insight into InfoSec compliance program status and risk management program
  • Cross framework mapping to see overlap between frameworks and reduce time to implement
  • Task tracking and notifications in platform or via JIRA and Slack to ensure accountability and fast resolution

To see how 95% of Secureframe users save time and resources obtaining and maintaining compliance, schedule a demo.

About the UserEvidence Survey

The data about Secureframe users was obtained through an online survey conducted by UserEvidence in February 2024. The survey included responses from 44 Secureframe users (the majority of whom were manager-level or above) across the information technology, consumer discretionary, industrials, financial, and healthcare industries.

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