What is a Compliance Management System? Benefits, Best Practices, and How to Choose

  • May 07, 2024

Emily Bonnie

Senior Content Marketing Manager at Secureframe


Rob Gutierrez

Senior Compliance Manager at Secureframe

25% of business revenue is spent on compliance costs, on average. 

Why is compliance so costly?

Understanding, achieving, and maintaining compliance with multiple security and regulatory standards is complex and time-consuming. It involves specialized expertise and an inordinate amount of repetitive manual work, upkeep, and follow-up. And in many cases, an oversight or misstep can result in significant violation penalties. 

Businesses need an organized, strategic approach to compliance that allows them to be proactive in understanding, meeting, and maintaining requirements. This is where compliance management comes in.

Compliance management encompasses all the different processes and policies organizations put in place to adhere to legal obligations and industry standards. A cohesive, strategic approach to compliance not only helps organizations avoid legal and financial penalties, but also improves internal operations and enhances their reputation with customers, prospects, and partners. 

Many organizations enhance their compliance management programs with tools designed to simplify and automate compliance processes. A compliance management system (CMS) helps organizations understand and uphold their compliance obligations and promotes both lawful operations and ethical business conduct. Tools also enable organizations to keep up with changing regulatory landscapes, enhance operational efficiency, and instill a culture of compliance across teams and departments.

Below, we'll delve into the nuts and bolts of what a compliance management system is, explore the benefits of implementing one, and share practical tips to help you select a CMS that best fits your organization’s unique requirements.

What is a compliance management system?

A compliance management system (CMS) is a set of policies, procedures, and processes that help an organization adhere to applicable laws, compliance regulations, security frameworks, and industry standards. Having a strong CMS is important for managing compliance risks, including financial penalties and reputational damage that might result from non-compliance issues.

Here are some key reasons why an organization might want to implement a compliance management system:

Simplify framework and regulatory compliance

Implementing and monitoring control requirements for in-demand security frameworks such as SOC 2, ISO 27001, and NIST 800-53 can be challenging and complex, especially when pursuing compliance for the first time. And for heavily regulated industries like banking, healthcare, and energy, adhering to legal and regulatory requirements is critical for avoiding costly penalties and legal complications.

A CMS makes it significantly easier for organizations to implement and maintain compliance controls, monitor their compliance posture over time, close any gaps to maintain continuous compliance, and stay up-to-date with existing regulations and changing framework requirements.

A CMS also centralizes all compliance-related data and activities, providing a single source of truth for compliance status and tasks as well as audit reports and compliance documentation. Compliance efforts are consistent and nothing gets overlooked due to fragmented processes. This centralization also simplifies the way organizations manage compliance data and makes compliance audits and inspections easier as information is readily accessible and clearly documented.

Because regulatory environments are dynamic, a CMS is a valuable tool for regulatory change management. A CMS can track these changes and notify the relevant personnel, ensuring that the organization adapts its processes and policies in a timely manner to remain compliant with new or updated regulations. This proactive approach can help reduce compliance risk and prevent costly violation penalties and security incidents.

Strengthen risk management

Implementing a CMS is often a key aspect of an organization’s risk management strategy since it helps identify and monitor specific risks associated with compliance and operations.

Once mitigating controls are implemented, a CMS can also ensure those measures are enforced and followed consistently across the organization, as well as monitor and report on their effectiveness. This prevents issues or gaps from escalating or providing a window of opportunity for attackers. 

Improve operational efficiency

An effective compliance management system drives operational efficiency across the organization, beyond the compliance team. It standardizes compliance processes across departments to eliminate redundancies and reduce human error.

Many CMS platforms also incorporate automation to streamline workflows and repetitive tasks like conducting risk assessments, collecting audit evidence, monitoring control performance, tracking assets, and generating reports. By removing the burden of these manual tasks from the compliance team, they can focus on more strategic tasks and improve their productivity and business impact. 

Support corporate governance

An effective CMS supports strong corporate governance by fostering a culture of compliance and data privacy across teams and departments. It holds all levels of the organization accountable for compliance responsibilities and clarifies roles for senior management, the board of directors, and all other personnel.

A CMS also improves transparency by maintaining detailed records of compliance activities, decisions, and the thinking behind them. This promotes corporate governance that is not just about oversight but also about aligning decisions and actions with the organization's ethical standards and regulatory requirements.

Enhance brand trust

A robust CMS demonstrates to stakeholders—including investors, customers, prospects, and regulatory bodies—that your organization is committed to maintaining high standards of compliance and ethics. This enhanced trust can open new business opportunities, accelerate sales cycles, and offer a competitive edge. 

It also strengthens loyalty, as customers are more likely to engage in long-term relationships with organizations that they trust to prioritize compliance and protect their sensitive data. This trust is particularly important in industries where long-term contracts and agreements are vital, such as in government contracting, healthcare, and finance.

Improve decision making

A CMS centralizes compliance-related data, making it readily accessible to decision-makers. Armed with a comprehensive understanding of compliance risks and status, senior leadership can make more informed decisions that align with both regulatory requirements and business goals.

This information also helps leaders allocate resources more efficiently. By identifying critical compliance needs and areas of high risk, organizations can better prioritize their investments in security controls, personnel training, and other compliance and risk management activities. 

How to decide if your organization needs a compliance management system

Knowing whether your organization would benefit from a compliance management system depends on your current operations, regulatory environment, and overall business objectives.

Here are some key questions to ask to help guide your decision:

What are your customers’ expectations?

Data privacy and security are issues that are increasingly top of mind for consumers and business leaders alike, and it’s a central consideration during the vendor selection process. Organizations that fail to prioritize compliance risk falling behind competitors and stalling their growth. 

In fact, 29% of organizations have lost a new business deal because they were missing a compliance certification, and 72% of businesses have completed a compliance audit specifically to win new business. And in many cases, such as government contractors and healthcare companies, compliance with applicable regulations is a hard requirement to close deals. 

Achieving compliance with a new framework for the first time can be a daunting and resource-intensive project. A compliance management system can simplify and streamline the process of achieving compliance with a number of in-demand security frameworks by laying out a clear path to compliance. 

The CMS can integrate with your current infrastructure to assess your current level of compliance, flag gaps in your security controls, and give you a clear-cut path forward. And by automating much of the audit preparation process — including evidence collection, policy creation,  and control mapping — a tool can save your team hundreds of hours of manual work. 

What is your regulatory landscape?

Are you operating in a highly regulated industry like healthcare or finance where compliance requirements are complex and frequently updated? Does your organization operate in multiple geographies with varying compliance requirements?

23% of security and IT professionals say staying aware of and interpreting new requirements and regulations affecting the organization was their top compliance challenge. Couple this with the fact that 76% of compliance managers say they manually scan regulatory websites to track changes and assess the impact on their organization. It’s clear that managing regulatory change is a significant burden for organizations. 

A CMS can remove a lot of this heavy lifting by monitoring for regulatory changes to ensure that your organization's policies and processes are up-to-date with new requirements. This not only limits the amount of manual work for your team, it reduces the risk of non-compliance penalties when changes are enacted.

How do you manage compliance risk?

Is there a formal risk management process in place? How is it integrated with your compliance efforts? What are the potential risks of non-compliance? Consider both direct consequences, like fines and legal actions, and indirect consequences, like reputational damage.

A CMS can offer clear, up-to-date visibility into your risk profile and mitigating controls by identifying, assessing, and monitoring compliance-related risks.

What compliance processes are currently in place?

Are the current processes effective in ensuring compliance? Have there been any recent compliance failures or near misses? Are these processes efficient or do they consume a significant amount of time and resources?

A CMS streamlines compliance processes through automation and standardized procedures. This includes automating documentation, internal audits, and reporting, which speeds up the process and reduces the risk of human error.

How complex are your systems and processes?

As the organization grows, will your current compliance processes scale effectively? How is sensitive data currently managed and protected? Does your organization handle a large volume of data that requires stringent internal controls?

With a CMS, organizations can achieve greater operational efficiency by reducing the time and resources dedicated to manual compliance tasks. The system's scalability ensures that it can adapt to growing business needs and changing regulatory environments without the need for constant reconfiguration.

What tools and technologies do you currently use?

60% of GRC professionals still manage compliance manually with spreadsheets. Are there any significant gaps in your current technology stack that a compliance management system could fill? Are your current tools integrated well enough to provide a comprehensive view of compliance across the organization?

Integrating a CMS with other business systems (like ERP or CRM) can enhance your overall tech stack by providing deeper insights into operations, improving data accuracy, and facilitating better decision-making across departments.

How is compliance information reported and used?

Are compliance reports up-to-date and actionable? How is compliance information used to support strategic decision-making?

With robust data tracking and real-time reporting features, a CMS provides transparency and visibility into compliance status and risks, making it easier to prepare for audits and maintain continuous compliance.

What is the organizational culture around compliance?

How does your organization support a culture of compliance? Are employees well-informed about their responsibilities related to compliance requirements? Is there a formal employee training program in place?

A CMS embeds compliance into everyday business processes, making it easier for all employees to stay aware of compliance requirements and their roles in maintaining them. It also promotes internal efficiency and accountability across the organization, accelerating speed to compliance. 

What is the projected ROI of implementing a tool?

What are the estimated costs of implementing compliance management software? Consider both direct costs (like purchase and installation) and indirect costs (like training and maintenance). What are the potential savings and benefits from reduced risks, avoided fines, improved efficiency, and enhanced compliance posture?

Weigh the costs associated with acquiring, implementing, and maintaining the CMS against potential savings and intangible benefits, such as time savings, reduced risk, and enhanced reputation. By carefully evaluating these aspects, you can make a well-informed decision on whether a compliance management system is likely to deliver a positive ROI for your organization.

By reflecting on these questions, you can gain a better understanding of whether your current compliance efforts are sufficient or if investing in compliance management software would significantly benefit your organization. If you find that compliance challenges are increasingly complex, consuming significant resources, and impacting your risk profile, it might be time to consider implementing a dedicated compliance management platform.

How to evaluate compliance management software

The right compliance management software can be invaluable in helping your organization streamline compliance processes, satisfy regulatory requirements, and manage compliance risks efficiently.

Here are some key features to look for when selecting a tool:

Continuous compliance monitoring and reporting

The CMS should have mechanisms for monitoring and tracking compliance activities and status. It should generate reports and dashboards to provide quick visibility into compliance status and progress for specific frameworks and regulations. Automated alerts and task creation can also help ensure timely remediation for any potential compliance issues.

Connect Secureframe’s 200+ deep integrations to continuously monitor your tech stack and get actionable insights into critical compliance issues such as failing controls. When misconfigurations are detected, use Comply AI for Remediation to get auto-generated fixes for infrastructure as code so you can easily copy, paste, and deploy fixes to your cloud environment. 

Risk management

The system should have features that streamline risk assessments and integrate them into your compliance processes. It should provide tools for evaluating the likelihood and impact of potential risks, as well as mechanisms for implementing controls to mitigate them.

Secureframe’s end-to-end risk management solution offers an automated risk assessment workflow enhanced with artificial intelligence capabilities. Using a risk description, Comply AI for Risk produces an inherent risk score, suggested treatment plan, and residual risk score so organizations can improve their risk awareness and response.

Vendor management

Most regulatory and security standards require organizations to ensure third-party vendors are also compliant with requirements, but tracking vendor compliance status can be difficult. Look for a CMS like Secureframe that makes it easy to access and track vendor compliance reports, due diligence reviews, and third-party risk assessments in a single tool.

Automated workflows and alerts

Look for a CMS with robust automation for time-consuming compliance tasks such as collecting audit evidence, completing risk assessments, drafting policies, and answering security questionnaires. A CMS that can flag failing controls can also help your team be proactive in closing any gaps and maintaining compliance. 

Secureframe offers all of these features, plus valuable time savers like policy generators and automated tests.

Personnel training

The software should include security awareness and compliance training programs for employees. It should also track training completion and effectiveness to ensure that employees understand their compliance responsibilities. Tools enable reminders for employees to complete training, as well as review and accept company policies, can also save HR and other teams from tracking completion and manually following up with reminders.

Proprietary in-platform training and completion tracking in built into Secureframe, along with automated personnel on and off-boarding and a single view for you to track and manage employee computers, cloud resources, and code repositories.

Policy and document management

The CMS should serve as a single source of truth and a centralized repository for compliance-related documents, including policies, procedures, reports, and audit findings.

Secureframe’s Knowledge Base serves as your organization’s security and compliance system of record, allowing personnel and subject matter experts to access accurate, verified security information without having to navigate multiple systems or accidentally using outdated information. A public Trust Center also allows you to share audit reports and manage secure document requests with customers, prospects, and partners, turning a strong security posture into a competitive advantage.

Regulatory change management

The system should be automatically updated to reflect any changes in existing laws, regulations, and security standards, reducing the time and effort it takes for organizations to understand how regulatory changes affect their existing compliance program.

The Secureframe team not only reaches out to notify customers of any regulatory changes affecting their compliance posture. The Secureframe platform is also built and maintained by compliance and security experts, so any regulatory changes or framework updates are reflected in the platform.

Customizability and scalability

The CMS should be adaptable to your organization's evolving needs and scalable to accommodate growth and changes in compliance requirements. Secureframe offers 200+ deep integrations to pair seamlessly with other systems and tools used across your organization, including cloud services, business suites and task management, HR services, security and developer tools, and risk management systems. And custom controls, custom frameworks, and customizable risk management mean you can tailor the platform to your needs as you scale.

In a customer survey conducted by UserEvidence, Secureframe users reported a range of security and compliance benefits:

  • 95% saved time and resources obtaining and maintaining compliance
  • 71% improved visibility into their security and compliance posture
  • 50% reduced costs associated with their compliance program
  • 50% sped up time-to-compliance for multiple compliance frameworks

To learn more about how Secureframe can streamline and strengthen your organization’s compliance management, book a personalized demo with a product expert.

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What is a compliance management system?

A compliance management system (CMS) is a coordinated set of policies, processes, tools, and controls designed to ensure an organization adheres to regulatory requirements and internal policies. Essentially, it helps manage, monitor, and verify that the organization complies with legal standards, thus mitigating risk, enhancing operational efficiency, and maintaining a company’s integrity and reputation.

What is an example of a compliance management system?

An example of a compliance management system is Secureframe, which helps businesses streamline the compliance process for standards like SOC 2 and ISO 27001. Secureframe automates many aspects of compliance management, such as risk assessments, vendor management, policy creation, and continuous monitoring, making it easier for businesses to maintain compliance with various regulatory standards.

What is the compliance management system model?

The compliance management system model typically involves four main components:

  1. Policies and Procedures: Developing clear guidelines on expected behavior and processes.
  2. Training and Education: Providing regular training to employees to ensure they understand these policies and their roles in compliance.
  3. Monitoring and Auditing: Continuously checking to ensure adherence to policies and detecting any compliance issues.
  4. Reporting and Incident Management: Facilitating easy reporting of compliance issues and managing incidents effectively with corrective actions.

This model is designed to ensure continuous oversight and improvement, helping organizations meet their regulatory obligations systematically.

Who is responsible for compliance management?

Compliance management within an organization is a collective responsibility, though specific roles and duties are typically assigned to ensure effective oversight and implementation. Here’s a breakdown of the common roles involved and their responsibilities:

  • Board of Directors: The board has the ultimate responsibility for overseeing compliance and ensuring it is prioritized. They oversee the organization’s compliance program, including the performance of the Chief Compliance Officer (or similar role) and the compliance function, and verify that compliance risks are appropriately tracked and managed.
  • Chief Compliance Officer (CCO): The CCO is typically a senior executive who leads the organization’s compliance program. They are responsible for developing and implementing compliance policies and procedures, ensuring the organization complies with legal and regulatory requirements, reporting compliance status to the board and regulatory agencies, and leading the compliance team.
  • Compliance team: This department works under the leadership of the CCO and is dedicated to managing day-to-day compliance activities. They monitor compliance processes, conduct internal audits, prepare for and support external audits, provide compliance training to employees, and assist in remediating any compliance issues.
  • Legal department: The legal department often works closely with the compliance department to advise on the legal implications of internal policies and procedures, help navigate the complex regulatory environment, assist in compliance reviews, and manage any litigation risks related to non-compliance.
  • Human Resources: HR plays a crucial role in supporting compliance, particularly in areas related to employment law. They implement and oversee policies related to ethical conduct, employment practices, and workplace safety; conduct compliant background checks; and ensure that disciplinary actions are carried out according to legal standards.
  • IT: IT compliance is crucial for protecting data and ensuring privacy. The IT team implements and manages technology solutions to support compliance with data protection laws (such as GDPR or HIPAA), maintain secure IT systems and infrastructure, and ensure that cybersecurity policies are followed.
  • All employees: Every employee has a role in compliance, regardless of their position, by adhering to internal policies and legal requirements, completing required compliance training, and reporting suspected non-compliance.

An effective compliance management program requires collaboration between all roles, teams, and departments at all levels of the organization. It’s not just about checking boxes and following laws but creating a culture of compliance and integrity.

How does compliance management software improve GRC?

Governance: Improves accountability and transparency into compliance processes and outcomes, informing and reinforcing established governance structures

Risk Management: Centralizes data to assess and flag risks and inform mitigation strategies. Continuously monitors mitigating controls to enable proactive risk management

Compliance: Automate compliance workflows, ensure documentation is accessible and properly maintained, and proactively address regulatory changes and standards