What is Compliance Management?

Compliance management is the process of planning, monitoring, controlling and assessing IT systems to ensure alignment with regulatory standards.

Rules govern essentially every aspect of business—from the quality standards that ensure that products are safe to use, to the social guidelines that dictate appropriate office behaviour. And while some rules are little more than suggestions or guidelines, others are built on established policies, or even employee-union regulations or government-enforced legislation. In these cases, failing to comply may have significant consequences.

Compliance management exists to ensure that a business, its employees and all relevant IT systems are maintaining these standards.

Regulatory standards exist for a variety of different reasons. In many cases, these regulations are in place to prevent businesses from acting in ways that might be contrary to the continued safety and happiness of the community. Organisations have a responsibility to provide quality products and services, and to operate in such a way that does not mislead or put their customers or others at risk. Compliance may also help promote ‘fair play’ within the market, establishing guidelines for businesses to follow when dealing with competitors.

Ethical issues are often at the heart of government regulations. Failure to operate within these laws may result in severe penalties for businesses, including fines, jail time for company executives, or even forced closure or retooling of the business itself.

Of course, ethical concerns are not the only motivation behind business regulation. Establishing standards, laws and best practices can create a competitive advantage. For one thing, customers are likely to be more willing to work with a company that adheres to vital processes and procedures. At the same time, many of these procedures exist to promote better management of the business itself, and organisations may see improvements across the board when they comply with established standards, laws and best practices. This is particularly apparent regarding company IT systems.

  • Compliance management in IT provides the following benefits for businesses:
  • Ensuring that essential approvals are collected before specific actions can be taken (such as IT updates or emergency patches).
  • Guaranteeing that financials are being accurately and consistently reported.
  • Preventing risk to sensitive customer, supplier, employee and company data.
  • Establishing service level agreements (SLAs) to ensure that vulnerabilities are discovered and addressed within a timely fashion.
  • Identifying escalation paths or notification chains.

Successful compliance management requires that organisations develop a clear understanding of their infrastructure and all associated systems. This demands that businesses take the following actions:


Assessment involves identifying the systems, processes, vendors or applications that are noncompliant. This may include vulnerable or unpatched systems, or simply those that fail to meet regulatory requirements in other ways. To assess systems, first import all relevant regulations into a regulatory framework and taxonomy. Next, create controls, and harmonise them so that there aren’t any duplicates—many regulations have similar requirements. These controls may be used to assess systems, and control tests should be regularly scheduled for continuous monitoring.


Any compliance issues discovered through control tests, as well as those that are identified in an audit log, must next be prioritised based on necessary effort, potential impact to the business, and issue severity. By classifying compliance issues based on the risk involved to the business and the resources needed to remediate them, organisations can work to resolve important ‘low-hanging fruit’ problems first, before moving onto others that may be not as pressing or as simple.


Compliance is focused on monitoring, prioritising and reporting issues, rather than remediating them. When compliance problems are discovered, the compliance management team must review the details and decide whether to transfer it to IT or another team for remediation, or to simply accept the associated risk and leave the compliance issue unresolved. In the event of a policy exception, performing risk assessments will give the risk team the information they need to determine whether to mitigate, accept, transfer or avoid the risk. Only a small number of policy exceptions should be allowed, and every policy exception should include an end date and reminders for informing users when the exception is about to expire.


Once any changes have been made and the systems have been reassessed, create a report validating that the changes have taken effect and that the system is now compliant. Additionally, there should be monitoring and reporting occurring at every stage. Continuous monitoring will help identify trends, more quickly identify non-compliance issues, and provide real-time updates of resolutions and exceptions.

Adhering to regulations, laws, standards and policies is a necessary aspect of modern business. Unfortunately, correctly managing compliance may, at times, be a difficult prospect. Here we briefly explore several challenges that may stand in the way:

Growing number of regulations

New laws and standards are always being created to ensure that business IT systems are operating safely, securely and in a way that won’t risk exposure of sensitive customer data. This means that organisations' compliance management solutions must be extremely adaptable, which many current options are not.

Changing security landscapes

Security threats are evolving even more quickly than regulatory standards; a seemingly secure system today may easily become vulnerable tomorrow to new threats and unaccounted for attack methods.

Lack of integration and visibility

Most business’ IT systems are not centrally contained; they’re spread out in distributed environments across multiple on-site and cloud-based platforms. Without integrated reporting or enterprise-wide visibility, it may be very hard to achieve a complete view of the current compliance state, as well as associated vulnerabilities and risks.

Overly complex infrastructures

Complex IT environments coupled with large teams may make coordination difficult, slowing down compliance assessments and creating inconsistencies or misunderstandings in establishing responsibilities.

Third-party integration

Businesses that work with contractors, vendors or other third-parties may be liable for how those partners manage any sensitive customer or business data they gain access to. This can be problematic, as effective compliance monitoring of third-party, non-full-time contractors is not always possible.

Just as many of the hurdles standing in the way of effective compliance management have evolved in recent years, top organisations are expanding their approach. Today, ensuring regulatory compliance often requires a versatile approach capable of monitoring, analysing and reporting on all relevant environments. Having the right tools is a major step towards this goal.

Other compliance best practices include:

Performing daily systems scans

When it comes to comprehensive compliance monitoring, ‘recent enough’ may not be recent enough. Compliance issues can crop up quickly and unexpectedly. As such, performing daily systems scans can help ensure that when problems or vulnerabilities manifest themselves, businesses can act before those problems begin to impact operations.

Reviewing and refining policies

Company policies are not (and should not be) static; they need to be dynamic and flexible enough to pivot towards any new advancements, laws and security threats that may arise. Schedule regular dates to review IT policies and be prepared to update them when necessary.

Staying current on new regulations

It’s the responsibility of the business to remain current on all IT compliance and regulation legislation. RSS feeds and other services can give organisations the forewarning they need to plan for changes as they come.

Integrating automation

Manual compliance management is inexact, inefficient and incredibly time consuming. And, as an organisation grows, it can be difficult for manual compliance processes to keep up. Automation makes it possible to pass certain essential, repetitive tasks onto machine programs. This allows businesses to streamline compliance management, for improved accuracy, consistency and productivity—scaling to match even the most sudden business growth.

Remaining up to date on all patches

Possibly the easiest and most effective step that businesses can take to ensure compliance is to keep all their IT systems patched and up to date. In many cases, patching can be almost completely automated. All patched systems should be patch tested to ensure viability before they are allowed to resume their functions.

In many cases, compliance is a legal requirement. And even where it is not mandated by law, compliance with key IT or business policies and standards can provide significant benefits. To get started with compliance management, follow these steps:

  1. Get commitment from all leaders and key decision makers within the organisation.
  2. Create a formalised programme identifying vital standards and regulations, conceptualising policies and creating controls.
  3. Identify the critical systems, assets, processes and vendors that compliance must be managed against.
  4. Identify those who should be responsible for the compliance of the critical systems, assets, processes and vendors.
  5. Create a centralised repository to identify non-compliance, for data, audit logs, asset information (like the CMDB).
  6. Where needed, deploy external parties to assist with specialised knowledge.
  7. Offer and mandate compliance training throughout all relevant departments.
  8. Automate control testing for ongoing compliance monitoring.

ServiceNow, a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for IT Risk Management, is also an industry leader in digital compliance solutions. Built on the award-winning Now Platform, ServiceNow Governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) empowers businesses to build effective governance frameworks.

Within these frameworks, users can import regulations, identify policies and establish policy lifecycles, assign and test controls, create attestations, schedule regular tests and perform issue and task management procedures to respond to compliance failures as they arise. Through it all, ServiceNow GRC is supported by dynamic, centralised dashboards and intuitive reporting, allowing organisations to get the information they need to act quickly and decisively.

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