Regulatory Reality

Jul 2 2009   2:53AM GMT

2 for 1 sale: How governance leads to compliance.

David Schneier David Schneier Profile: David Schneier

A while back I’d written about the Unified Compliance Framework from Network Frontiers, which takes quite literally every regulation and framework within the IT domain and maps them in such a way where you can identify how a single control addresses multiple requirements. In this day and age, the era of regulatory overload, with even more regulations heading our way I consider the product an essential tool in managing the required work. However there’s in important caveat to throw out there; the benefits of the UCF product can only be fully realized if it serves as the underpinnings of an IT governance program.

Ah yes, IT governance, a favorite topic of mine and one that’s a sure-fire way to get me to whip out my soapbox and fire-up the accompanying rhetoric. I’m a practitioner first and a theorist second and the combined perspective provided by both has forced me to become a huge advocate of governance as not only the best way to achieve regulatory compliance but perhaps the only way. I’ve reached the end of my rope when it comes to the currently popular way to pursue compliance, which is to build silos and assign each its own regulation or industry framework. How does it makes sense to have, for example, two or more groups of people testing user account provisioning when a single test can be used to satisfy both? It doesn’t and by doing so it wastes time, resources and money.

And so now I’m getting to do something about it.

My current “big” project has multiple parts. The client is managing the consolidation of two business entities including their regulatory compliance initiatives. It’s resulted in their needing to build out a plan to merge four sets of existing regulatory compliance frameworks as well as taking over responsibility for another that’s brand new to their mix. Beyond the doubling up of the required work, it’s also resulted in a new compliance team that’s sizable and using headcount within an IT organization doing work that’s not really IT-specific. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the client had empowered the team responsible for managing compliance to switch to a governance approach a few years back. Rather than serve as an after-the-fact function that tests to make sure controls are working effectively, this group has served as both an adviser to IT, helping strengthen controls and has streamlined the testing process so that stakeholders pass along evidence of their daily activities, thus reducing the need for the typical testing cycle fire drill that most of know. It’s served two purposes for the IT organization: It eased their burden in the compliance process and made them more trusting of the audit and assessment function.

But in the short term, the consolidation has dramatically increased their workload and at a time when management is looking for ways to reduce expenses and get more for less. How do they proceed? How do they consolidate the related frameworks, assume oversight for the new ones and continue delivering the value and efficiencies that they’ve come to be known for? There’s only one way: by taking IT governance to the next stage of its evolution.

They already understand and practice the basic elements of IT governance and so the foundation has been laid. Now it’s time to take it up a notch to the next level. Thus the tie-back to the UCF approach. If you have multiple frameworks to comply with, the commonalities to be found between them are significant. I know this based on my own research and analysis and can now prove it courtesy of UCF. The manager of the IT governance function is also a believer of this approach and the plan is to build out a true IT governance program so that all in-scope frameworks are to be managed via a consolidated approach. All current and effective frameworks will be supported through the end of 2009 but along the way each control and related activity is being reviewed to identify opportunities for consolidation. Once done, all IT-based activity will be viewed through the lenses of the new governance framework so that compliance is maintained and changes to the infrastructure are evaluated for any potential regulatory impact. And the best part is that all of this will likely be done with less effort, thus freeing up resources to focus on more IT-centric tasks.

Imagine that, a world where compliance is achieved through a coordinated proactive governance approach and IT resources are free to focus on technology-based activities. It’s like solving two problems for the price of one with the added benefit of actually spending less money overall.   What CIO/CTO wouldn’t like that?

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