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Why businesses can't afford to compromise on compliance

security
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Song_about_summer)

There are a host of measures that businesses need to consider when ensuring their IT systems are compliant. These include keeping software up to date such as operating systems, maintaining the best practice security and firewall measures, meeting the requirements of industry specific measures such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and accounting for local and regional government regulations.

Failure to ensure currency in processes can lead to non-compliance issues across large swathes of different operations within a business, and can open up the possibility of numerous negative consequences and risks if left unaddressed. But how detrimental can neglecting these aspects be, and what can businesses do to ensure their IT systems remain compliant?

The potential risks

First and foremost, non-compliance across any aspect of an IT system can leave it vulnerable to a cyber-attack. Cyber criminals work around the clock looking for vulnerabilities in systems across organizations around the globe, and such is the risk in the modern world that an attempted cyber-attack is increasingly becoming a matter of when, not if, for organizations that fail to keep their IT systems updated and compliant.

Not only can cyber-attacks result in massive financial cost to a business in terms of fines from regulatory bodies, such as a £20m fine in the case of British Airways failing to protect the personal details of more than 400,000 of its customers, but it can also be detrimental in a much wider sense depending on the industry. For example, for organizations that are part of extensive supply chains or providing systems to other businesses, a single cyber-attack can prove significant across organizations that rely on partners and third-party software.

Another key example of an industry-specific implication was the WannaCry cyber-attack on the NHS in 2017, where a major ransomware attack led to 6,900 critical appointments being cancelled, leading to a direct impact on livelihoods in the UK. In almost all cases, major incidents such as these could have been avoided with updated and compliant systems in place.

While security is of course a main driver to ensure IT systems are compliant, out-of-date and poorly configured systems can also have an impact in terms of business best practice by negatively impacting on employee productivity through slow and inefficient systems. To help combat these potential negative consequences, there are some key resources and tools that businesses can rely on.

Utilizing tools and expertise

For many organizations, knowing where the vulnerable areas exist in their IT systems is half the battle in ensuring compliance, and for some, many issues will not be noticed until an audit is completed or an unfortunate consequence reveals the vulnerability later on down the line. Utilization of a compliance discovery tool can allow an organization’s IT estate to be scanned to analyze where there may be pitfalls within a current system. This will provide the clear visibility to know where issues have arisen and where focus needs to be placed for improvements.

The second half of the compliance challenge is then addressing those vulnerabilities, which in many cases will require the expertise of a technology partner to help address the potentially long list of complex fixes and ultimately assist in counteracting the hefty budget that would be required for organizations to otherwise tackle them alone. It is here where that expertise can help to draw up the battle plan for fixing any issues, which, as previously mentioned, can range from security to software, covering a wide area of disciplines that an in-house IT team may not have experience in.

The importance of leaning on expertise is also particularly prevalent in the case of legacy IT systems. A difficult reality for many organizations is that in many cases, multi-faceted IT systems are built up over time, and it can become almost impossible to ensure that every aspect of them is fully up to date to ensure compliance. The key for many organizations is gaining advice on where best to strike the balance between continued use of a legacy IT system that may be outdated in terms of technology, but still provides key resources for the business, while updating as much of it as possible to mitigate against risk of cyber-attack and outdated data compliance.

Wide-reaching benefits

Aside from the increased protection against cyber-attacks and the resulting damages they can cause, consistently updated and compliant IT systems can provide significant benefits to employees within businesses, such as faster and more efficient software. This is particularly important for public-facing organizations where customers can be assisted with much quicker, helping to improve the overall experience while also providing a greater level of job satisfaction to employees.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also had a key role to play in shining a light on the importance of IT system compliance. While it could be argued that an element of risk occurred due to the need for organizations to change internal rules and regulations to support the move towards remote working, particularly in industries such as banking, the need for regulations to be re-assessed due the introduction of this new working practice has in many ways helped organizations to analyze their current compliance arrangements with fresh eyes and look towards new solutions.

The pandemic, in combination with rapidly changing regulations, gives organizations even greater reason to utilize tools to discover and combat non-compliance and lean on the right expertise to ensure updated systems are in place. For UK-based businesses for example, the nation’s departure from the EU has led to comprehensive alterations to standards such as the GDPR.

With half of the UK’s largest organizations currently carrying the burden of unresolved compliance issues, now is the time for businesses to tackle these shortfalls to ensure that they don’t become a much bigger problem. By maintaining the most compliant systems possible, organizations can be best prepared to face any unexpected or unforeseen factors that could affect their operations in the coming years.

Mat Clothier, CEO, Cloudhouse