A black and white drawing of a rock formation.

Compliance frameworks are necessary for growing companies looking to build integrity in their operations and foster customer trust — as well as avoid fines and penalties in some cases. In fact, Globalscape’s research shows that the cost of non-compliance is 2.71 times greater than the typical cost of compliance.

Many organizations lack a structured environment to monitor and fulfill compliance requirements — which is why investing in quality compliance programs is key. 

In this guide, you’ll learn how to design and develop a functional compliance program and how to get the most out of your investment. 

Before exploring such specifics, though, let’s understand the basics.

What is a compliance program?

A compliance program is an organization-wide system of guidelines, procedures, and best practices designed to ensure adherence to applicable industry standards and regulations. A robust compliance program goes beyond helping fulfill legal or regulatory compliance; it also provides a comprehensive set of internal policies that personnel and systems of an organization should follow to protect confidential and sensitive data and enhance brand reputation.

Developing a compliance program helps your organization be pragmatic in a dynamic risk landscape. It bolsters your compliance efforts in several ways, such as:

  • Practical budget assignments and cost controls for compliance
  • Orientation and continuous training of compliance professionals and employees
  • Proactive non-compliance remediation options

All of the above ensures more clarity and gets your teams on the same page, helping everyone understand their role in your organization’s compliance management efforts.

Why you should develop a compliance program

Building a compliance program brings numerous benefits, most notably:

  • Demonstrable commitment to responsible GRC operations: A structured compliance program shows stakeholders that you’re willing to invest the necessary time and effort in effective GRC. This also makes customers more likely to do business with you.
  • Reduced risk of reputational or legal damage and penalties: Non-compliance carries significant financial and reputational risks, even with voluntary standards and frameworks. A compliance program defines internal policies to monitor compliance workflows and remediate non-compliance risks in time.
  • Cost-effectiveness and resource optimization: A compliance program is a worthy investment because it eliminates expenses associated with non-compliance. It also helps remove redundant operations and allocate resources where needed most to bridge any compliance gaps.
  • Improved ethical conduct and productivity: A compliance program gives employees a specific code of conduct to follow, eliminating guesswork, related inefficiencies, and potential misconduct
  • Proactive course correction: A compliance program establishes a clear system for resolving misconduct or deviations, reducing the risk of undesirable circumstances harming your overall compliance posture. 

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Key elements of an effective compliance program

Every organization’s compliance program is different and depends on factors like its industry and the specific standards applicable. Still, all compliance programs have the following seven components in common:

  1. Written policies and standards: All your internal policies and standards should be documented and preferably stored in a centralized hub for easy access.
  2. Accountability and oversight functions: Define specific roles and responsibilities and consider appointing a compliance leader to oversee tasks and ensure your compliance program is implemented properly.
  3. Defined communication channels: Answer key questions to outline your compliance communication channels, such as:some text
    1. Who will communicate your policies to employees?
    2. How should someone report misconduct or suspicious activities?
  4. Regular education and training: Ongoing training is the key to successful program implementation and continuous compliance as a whole. Pay special attention to enabling employee education when adopting new frameworks.
  5. Disciplined enforcement: Your compliance leader and other authoritative members must take concrete steps to ensure the practical enforcement of policies, as well as report major deviations immediately.
  6. Ongoing monitoring workflows: Oversight functions should be coupled with streamlined (or preferably automated) monitoring workflows for real-time visibility into program implementation and pending compliance tasks.
  7. Response and remediation plans: Clarify the different types of misconduct your organization acknowledges and clearly communicate the consequences to your employees.

How to develop a compliance program in five steps

Let’s go over the steps you should take to develop a compliance program. Specifically, you need to do the following:

  1. Define policies and standards.
  2. Set up an evidence collection system.
  3. Conduct risk assessments.
  4. Develop a compliance training program.
  5. Implement an auditing and reporting system.

Step 1: Define policies and standards

A compliance program is built on a clear foundation of policies and standards, so this step is all about defining them. When doing so, use any specific frameworks you’re complying with as a reference point. Understand the framework’s requirements and then translate them into the standards or rules your employees should follow. 

In some cases, you may want (or need) to comply with multiple recognized frameworks and standards. If this happens, make sure to check for any overlap between their requirements to avoid workflow duplications. You may be able to achieve several efficiencies with a single policy, which simplifies your program communication and establishment.

Remember to get everyone on board when defining your policies — especially senior management such as C-level executives who have a deep understanding of the ethical and legal standards your organization is expected to maintain. It’s also good practice to designate a lead compliance program officer with the authority to make decisions as required.

Step 2: Set up an evidence collection system

A well-built documentation and evidence collection system is crucial for successful compliance. It helps your team conduct effective internal audits and prepare for external audits if you’re pursuing any certifications. Mind that organizations often encounter three problems when building an evidence collection system:

  1. Excessive manual tasks for record-keeping
  2. Tracking evidence across disparate systems
  3. Maintaining a trail of scattered evidence sources like email chains, screenshots, etc.

To overcome these obstacles, you should use an automated compliance management system. It automatically pulls relevant data and turns it into actionable insights displayed on a unified dashboard which reduces manual efforts and allows you to work on your compliance program instead of working in it.

Step 3: Conduct risk assessments

Within the scope of a compliance program, risk assessments refer to identifying and neutralizing any risk of falling out of compliance or risks to the business’ security and integrity at large. Due to the increase in the number of data, privacy, and security compliances, most compliance risks are related to data violations and poor access controls.

Depending on the scale and scope of your compliance program, you can classify risks using various risk assessment approaches, such as:

  • Quantitative
  • Qualitative
  • Semi-quantitative
  • Threat-based

Since your organization’s risk profile evolves with time, it’s crucial to conduct assessments regularly — at a minimum annually. As with the previous step, you can automate various tasks, like risk scoring and control checks, to ensure your assessments aren’t time-consuming.

Remember that after compiling risk assessment findings, you should come up with remediation strategies. Pay special attention to mitigating critical threats that can disrupt your business or tarnish its reputation and reach out to a risk consultant if needed.

Step 4: Develop a compliance training program

When it comes to minimizing errors and misconduct, prevention is important and effective compliance training can help. Ideally, every employee who directly or indirectly contributes to your compliance status should be educated on the necessary policies and practices to avoid compliance-related risks, especially security and privacy awareness training.

One of the best practices is to make educational content easily accessible to the relevant parties. Compliance content can be quite complex, so try to make it digestible by simplifying jargon and specifying easy-to-follow steps. You can also create microlearning modules that guide employees through all the necessary policies without overwhelming them.

Other useful tips for making your compliance training effective include the following:

  • Gamify training through milestones and incentives.
  • Use scenario-based learning to demonstrate the impact of undesirable behavior on your compliance posture.
  • Make educational content more informal through engaging visuals and narrative formats.

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Step 5: Implement an auditing and reporting system

It’s hard to assess your compliance program’s effectiveness without regular audits. You should conduct them internally to determine if you’re compliant with the necessary standards and regulations and as applicable, ready for an external audit.

An internal compliance audit is a deeply investigative process that consists of various steps, such as:

  1. Defining the scope, frequency, and procedures
  2. Interviewing stakeholders and gathering documentation
  3. Analyzing data and turning it into insights
  4. Creating the final report and sharing it with stakeholders

It’s worth noting that compliance professionals often find internal audits overwhelming because they’re time-consuming and tend to disrupt regular operations. Still, you should not put off an audit if you want to accurately measure the efficacy of your compliance program.

The good news is that you can automate audits much like other aspects of your compliance program. By leveraging the right software, you can gain access to live insights into your security and compliance posture without extra legwork.

Build a comprehensive compliance program with Vanta

It’s common for compliance managers to experience various bottlenecks while building and executing their compliance programs. Keeping these roadblocks in mind, Vanta gives you the easiest way to create and run a cohesive compliance program.

You get a robust Trust Management Platform with pre-built compliance workflows for 20+ frameworks and standards, such as:

You can also set up custom frameworks from scratch to monitor any specific compliance needs. Vanta automates several areas of your compliance program, reducing up to 90% of the manual work. Compliance teams can especially benefit from the following functionalities:

  • A centralized hub offering full visibility into evidence collected.
  • Built-in tools and guidance to fix non-compliance.
  • 300+ integrations with tools like datastore providers and document management systems.
  • Vanta AI with smart suggestions for everything from tests to controls.
  • Access review solutions to streamline and centralize recurring review processes. 
  • Automated risk assessment reports for continuous compliance

You can also use Vanta’s Trust Center to demonstrate trustworthiness to stakeholders and tie your compliance program to revenue with clear ROIs. It lets you showcase your latest security and compliance posture, helping your organization build and maintain a solid reputation as you mature your compliance program.

If you wish to automate your compliance program end to end, explore Vanta’s integrated GRC solution. You can also schedule a custom demo to explore some neat features tailored to your compliance functions.

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Compliance

Compliance programs 101: How to develop one

A black and white drawing of a rock formation.

Compliance frameworks are necessary for growing companies looking to build integrity in their operations and foster customer trust — as well as avoid fines and penalties in some cases. In fact, Globalscape’s research shows that the cost of non-compliance is 2.71 times greater than the typical cost of compliance.

Many organizations lack a structured environment to monitor and fulfill compliance requirements — which is why investing in quality compliance programs is key. 

In this guide, you’ll learn how to design and develop a functional compliance program and how to get the most out of your investment. 

Before exploring such specifics, though, let’s understand the basics.

What is a compliance program?

A compliance program is an organization-wide system of guidelines, procedures, and best practices designed to ensure adherence to applicable industry standards and regulations. A robust compliance program goes beyond helping fulfill legal or regulatory compliance; it also provides a comprehensive set of internal policies that personnel and systems of an organization should follow to protect confidential and sensitive data and enhance brand reputation.

Developing a compliance program helps your organization be pragmatic in a dynamic risk landscape. It bolsters your compliance efforts in several ways, such as:

  • Practical budget assignments and cost controls for compliance
  • Orientation and continuous training of compliance professionals and employees
  • Proactive non-compliance remediation options

All of the above ensures more clarity and gets your teams on the same page, helping everyone understand their role in your organization’s compliance management efforts.

Why you should develop a compliance program

Building a compliance program brings numerous benefits, most notably:

  • Demonstrable commitment to responsible GRC operations: A structured compliance program shows stakeholders that you’re willing to invest the necessary time and effort in effective GRC. This also makes customers more likely to do business with you.
  • Reduced risk of reputational or legal damage and penalties: Non-compliance carries significant financial and reputational risks, even with voluntary standards and frameworks. A compliance program defines internal policies to monitor compliance workflows and remediate non-compliance risks in time.
  • Cost-effectiveness and resource optimization: A compliance program is a worthy investment because it eliminates expenses associated with non-compliance. It also helps remove redundant operations and allocate resources where needed most to bridge any compliance gaps.
  • Improved ethical conduct and productivity: A compliance program gives employees a specific code of conduct to follow, eliminating guesswork, related inefficiencies, and potential misconduct
  • Proactive course correction: A compliance program establishes a clear system for resolving misconduct or deviations, reducing the risk of undesirable circumstances harming your overall compliance posture. 

{{cta_withimage3="/cta-modules"}}

Key elements of an effective compliance program

Every organization’s compliance program is different and depends on factors like its industry and the specific standards applicable. Still, all compliance programs have the following seven components in common:

  1. Written policies and standards: All your internal policies and standards should be documented and preferably stored in a centralized hub for easy access.
  2. Accountability and oversight functions: Define specific roles and responsibilities and consider appointing a compliance leader to oversee tasks and ensure your compliance program is implemented properly.
  3. Defined communication channels: Answer key questions to outline your compliance communication channels, such as:some text
    1. Who will communicate your policies to employees?
    2. How should someone report misconduct or suspicious activities?
  4. Regular education and training: Ongoing training is the key to successful program implementation and continuous compliance as a whole. Pay special attention to enabling employee education when adopting new frameworks.
  5. Disciplined enforcement: Your compliance leader and other authoritative members must take concrete steps to ensure the practical enforcement of policies, as well as report major deviations immediately.
  6. Ongoing monitoring workflows: Oversight functions should be coupled with streamlined (or preferably automated) monitoring workflows for real-time visibility into program implementation and pending compliance tasks.
  7. Response and remediation plans: Clarify the different types of misconduct your organization acknowledges and clearly communicate the consequences to your employees.

How to develop a compliance program in five steps

Let’s go over the steps you should take to develop a compliance program. Specifically, you need to do the following:

  1. Define policies and standards.
  2. Set up an evidence collection system.
  3. Conduct risk assessments.
  4. Develop a compliance training program.
  5. Implement an auditing and reporting system.

Step 1: Define policies and standards

A compliance program is built on a clear foundation of policies and standards, so this step is all about defining them. When doing so, use any specific frameworks you’re complying with as a reference point. Understand the framework’s requirements and then translate them into the standards or rules your employees should follow. 

In some cases, you may want (or need) to comply with multiple recognized frameworks and standards. If this happens, make sure to check for any overlap between their requirements to avoid workflow duplications. You may be able to achieve several efficiencies with a single policy, which simplifies your program communication and establishment.

Remember to get everyone on board when defining your policies — especially senior management such as C-level executives who have a deep understanding of the ethical and legal standards your organization is expected to maintain. It’s also good practice to designate a lead compliance program officer with the authority to make decisions as required.

Step 2: Set up an evidence collection system

A well-built documentation and evidence collection system is crucial for successful compliance. It helps your team conduct effective internal audits and prepare for external audits if you’re pursuing any certifications. Mind that organizations often encounter three problems when building an evidence collection system:

  1. Excessive manual tasks for record-keeping
  2. Tracking evidence across disparate systems
  3. Maintaining a trail of scattered evidence sources like email chains, screenshots, etc.

To overcome these obstacles, you should use an automated compliance management system. It automatically pulls relevant data and turns it into actionable insights displayed on a unified dashboard which reduces manual efforts and allows you to work on your compliance program instead of working in it.

Step 3: Conduct risk assessments

Within the scope of a compliance program, risk assessments refer to identifying and neutralizing any risk of falling out of compliance or risks to the business’ security and integrity at large. Due to the increase in the number of data, privacy, and security compliances, most compliance risks are related to data violations and poor access controls.

Depending on the scale and scope of your compliance program, you can classify risks using various risk assessment approaches, such as:

  • Quantitative
  • Qualitative
  • Semi-quantitative
  • Threat-based

Since your organization’s risk profile evolves with time, it’s crucial to conduct assessments regularly — at a minimum annually. As with the previous step, you can automate various tasks, like risk scoring and control checks, to ensure your assessments aren’t time-consuming.

Remember that after compiling risk assessment findings, you should come up with remediation strategies. Pay special attention to mitigating critical threats that can disrupt your business or tarnish its reputation and reach out to a risk consultant if needed.

Step 4: Develop a compliance training program

When it comes to minimizing errors and misconduct, prevention is important and effective compliance training can help. Ideally, every employee who directly or indirectly contributes to your compliance status should be educated on the necessary policies and practices to avoid compliance-related risks, especially security and privacy awareness training.

One of the best practices is to make educational content easily accessible to the relevant parties. Compliance content can be quite complex, so try to make it digestible by simplifying jargon and specifying easy-to-follow steps. You can also create microlearning modules that guide employees through all the necessary policies without overwhelming them.

Other useful tips for making your compliance training effective include the following:

  • Gamify training through milestones and incentives.
  • Use scenario-based learning to demonstrate the impact of undesirable behavior on your compliance posture.
  • Make educational content more informal through engaging visuals and narrative formats.

{{cta_simple1}}

Step 5: Implement an auditing and reporting system

It’s hard to assess your compliance program’s effectiveness without regular audits. You should conduct them internally to determine if you’re compliant with the necessary standards and regulations and as applicable, ready for an external audit.

An internal compliance audit is a deeply investigative process that consists of various steps, such as:

  1. Defining the scope, frequency, and procedures
  2. Interviewing stakeholders and gathering documentation
  3. Analyzing data and turning it into insights
  4. Creating the final report and sharing it with stakeholders

It’s worth noting that compliance professionals often find internal audits overwhelming because they’re time-consuming and tend to disrupt regular operations. Still, you should not put off an audit if you want to accurately measure the efficacy of your compliance program.

The good news is that you can automate audits much like other aspects of your compliance program. By leveraging the right software, you can gain access to live insights into your security and compliance posture without extra legwork.

Build a comprehensive compliance program with Vanta

It’s common for compliance managers to experience various bottlenecks while building and executing their compliance programs. Keeping these roadblocks in mind, Vanta gives you the easiest way to create and run a cohesive compliance program.

You get a robust Trust Management Platform with pre-built compliance workflows for 20+ frameworks and standards, such as:

You can also set up custom frameworks from scratch to monitor any specific compliance needs. Vanta automates several areas of your compliance program, reducing up to 90% of the manual work. Compliance teams can especially benefit from the following functionalities:

  • A centralized hub offering full visibility into evidence collected.
  • Built-in tools and guidance to fix non-compliance.
  • 300+ integrations with tools like datastore providers and document management systems.
  • Vanta AI with smart suggestions for everything from tests to controls.
  • Access review solutions to streamline and centralize recurring review processes. 
  • Automated risk assessment reports for continuous compliance

You can also use Vanta’s Trust Center to demonstrate trustworthiness to stakeholders and tie your compliance program to revenue with clear ROIs. It lets you showcase your latest security and compliance posture, helping your organization build and maintain a solid reputation as you mature your compliance program.

If you wish to automate your compliance program end to end, explore Vanta’s integrated GRC solution. You can also schedule a custom demo to explore some neat features tailored to your compliance functions.

{{cta_testimonial6="/cta-modules"}}

Webinar: Scaling your GRC program with automation and AI

Learn how to automate compliance processes, strategies to streamline risk assessments and ways to use automation and AI on vendor security reviews.

Webinar: Scaling your GRC program with automation and AI

Learn how to automate compliance processes, strategies to streamline risk assessments and ways to use automation and AI on vendor security reviews.

Webinar: Scaling your GRC program with automation and AI

Learn how to automate compliance processes, strategies to streamline risk assessments and ways to use automation and AI on vendor security reviews.

Role:GRC responsibilities:
Board of directors
Central to the overarching GRC strategy, this group sets the direction for the compliance strategy. They determine which standards and regulations are necessary for compliance and align the GRC strategy with business objectives.
Chief financial officerPrimary responsibility for the success of the GRC program and for reporting results to the board.
Operations managers from relevant departmentsThis group owns processes. They are responsible for the success and direction of risk management and compliance within their departments.
Representatives from relevant departments
These are the activity owners. These team members are responsible for carrying out specific compliance and risk management tasks within their departments and for integrating these tasks into their workflows.
Contract managers from relevant department
These team members are responsible for managing interactions with vendors and other third parties in their department to ensure all risk management and compliance measures are being taken.
Chief information security officer (CISO)Defines the organization’s information security policy, designs risk and vulnerability assessments, and develops information security policies.
Data protection officer (DPO) or legal counselDevelops goals for data privacy based on legal regulations and other compliance needs, designs and implements privacy policies and practices, and assesses these practices for effectiveness.
GRC leadResponsible for overseeing the execution of the GRC program in collaboration with the executive team as well as maintaining the organization’s library of security controls.
Cybersecurity analyst(s)Implements and monitors cybersecurity measures that are in line with the GRC program and business objectives.
Compliance analyst(s)Monitors the organization’s compliance with all regulations and standards necessary, identifies any compliance gaps, and works to mitigate them.
Risk analyst(s)Carries out the risk management program for the organization and serves as a resource for risk management across various departments, including identifying, mitigating, and monitoring risks.
IT security specialist(s)Implements security controls within the IT system in coordination with the cybersecurity analyst(s).

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