A new regulatory environment is affecting the business landscape, and compliance standards such as Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) and HIPAA require businesses to adhere to enforceable standards set by the government. Many compliance standards require accountability on the part of businesses, especially in the areas of data integrity, security, and privacy. Small businesses, especially in the financial and healthcare sectors or those that handle contracts from businesses in these sectors or from government agencies, are more likely to be affected by a more stringent regulatory environment.
According to a study sponsored by the Office of Advocacy in 2005 titled "The Impact of Regulatory Costs on Small Firms," small businesses with fewer than 20 employees spent $7,647 per employee to adhere to federal regulations. In comparison to businesses with over 500 employees that spent $5,282 per employee to comply with the same regulations, small businesses spent approximately 45% more than their larger business counterparts. However, compliance is not only a necessary part of doing business in today's world, it also ensures a more secure business practice and can help enhance customer confidence and attract new contracts and business.
Initially however, policy compliance may appear to be a daunting task. Yet, it is possible to deal with government regulations in a timely and effective way once you understand that the aspect of compliance that is often most relevant to small businesses is protecting the information of your customers, employees, clients, and others whom you conduct business with. Once you understand how to create a secure infrastructure to protect how you collect, store, and use data, you can meet the required standards with greater ease.
Here are some steps you can take to keep your business compliant:
- Learn about regulations: Staying informed about the regulatory climate is the first step in the process. New regulations are created every year, and understanding which ones affect your business will help you create a strategy, a timeline for meeting the regulations, as well what resources you already have so that you will not replicate controls already in place.
- Assess your security controls: You probably have many security controls in place for the sake of creating a secure business environment. This will help you a great deal, since you may only need to add a few extra measures to stay compliant with a new law or regulation. Taking stock of the hardware, software, and other IT devices you currently use will help you understand what areas you need to add extra protection to.
- Install security measures: You should always have a minimum set of security measures installed to protect your business' network and resources, such as customer contact lists. You should invest in a backup solution to serve as a security measure – especially a disk-based backup system that allows you to backup your files to an offsite location and retrieve them easily and quickly. You will then have access to important data if you experience data theft or loss and need to contact customers or vendors. You should also install and use antivirus software and firewall technologies. These security solutions are necessary for a variety of regulations, especially to comply with laws regarding customer data privacy.
- Upgrade and update: Though you may have antivirus protection, backup solutions, and other IT security safeguards, outdated versions put your business at risk from the very threats you are trying to avoid. Additionally, proving to government agencies and other authorities that you have taken adequate measures to protect confidential data may require you to disclose the security measures you have taken. Keeping current is not only one of the most important ways you can demonstrate regulatory compliance, it is also a way to be sure that the measures you have in place are effective. Check regularly for patches and updates on antivirus and other software, and consider upgrading to newer versions periodically to take advantage of technology advances.
- Install compliance technology: There are different ways you can deal with issues of compliance, depending on the nature of your business. Some businesses, especially those in the healthcare and financial sectors may need to take more precautionary measures than others. If your business is in one of these sectors, you may consider compliance software technology that can be used to meet IT compliance and record and report what controls your business uses. This can be especially useful for businesses in industries that have periodic audits of business security controls and processes.
Regulatory compliance is an important aspect of doing business in today's world. By taking steps to meet government regulations, you will also gain your clients' and customers' trust. It will also help you maintain a secure computing environment, saving time and resources in the future by protecting your business from various threats. The security measures you implement now will help keep your business compliant and make it easier to meet new regulations that arise.