Automation is fundamentally changing the way cybersecurity audits operate. Whether you are conducting your first audit or have been running them for years, it’s important to know what automation can and can’t do, and how it will help you through the compliance process.
We’re in the midst of a significant change in the way companies approach compliance projects. In fact, it’s safe to say that in the 12 years that A-LIGN has been in business – not to mention the decades of collective compliance experience our team has had prior to that – there’s never been such a big shift in the way audits are conducted. Of course, I’m talking about automation – and how it is fundamentally streamlining the way audits are done.
Frankly it’s about time that more people are talking about audit automation. After all, if you are in any type of modern IT organization, automation is probably a core capability and one that’s yielded tremendous efficiencies in many different areas related to IT management, operations, and security. Yet, only now are we really seeing movement in automating cybersecurity audits. Whether you are about to conduct your first audit, or you’ve been running audits for years, it’s important to know how automation will help your project.
It’s still early, and no single audit automation software product does everything that everyone wants. But the technology is definitely moving fast, and that’s why we continue to invest so heavily in our cloud-based compliance management platform A-SCEND.
There’s always more to build, but the impact that A-SCEND has had on our 2,500 clients is undeniable: improving the efficiency of their audits, consolidating evidence, accelerating final reports, minimizing back-and-forth communications, and reducing duplication efforts of multiple audits – all resulting in substantial savings of both time and money.
How Much of the SOC 2 Process Can You Automate Effectively?
With that being said, there is a fair amount of confusion about how much of the SOC 2 audit process can truly be automated today. You may find software products that claim an 80% reduction in the process, while end-users often put that number closer to 10%-20%. Certainly, it’s highly dependent on the specifics of any given organization – but there are definitely some areas that see a greater benefit from automation than others.
We thought it would help to break down some of the critical portions of the SOC 2 audit process where automation is having the biggest impact today, across most companies.
1. Evidence Collection
Evidence collection is clearly the big kahuna when it comes to the potential that audit automation can have on day-to-day operations. After all, collecting evidence is the highest-touch activity that requires highly-skilled resources – so the less involved your staff needs to be the better.
With so many enterprise software systems in use, only a handful make it easy to automatically extract and transmit evidence. However, we believe this number will continue to grow every year. It’s important to understand how many of your systems don’t natively support audit automation, because that will be a big driver of any evaluation process.
2. Mapping Information to Controls
Aside from fully–automated data extraction, any automation system should make it easy to upload whatever evidence is required and associate it with the appropriate controls.
A typical audit is organized around an Information Request List, or IRL. This is the checklist of reports, processes, data dumps, and other evidence that a company needs to provide to the auditor for review and validation. As products in this category mature, you’ll see audit automation make this process much easier by incorporating IRLs and control mapping directly into the user interface and workflow – essentially putting the information that’s requested exactly where it’s needed.
3. Centralized Asset Storage
With evidence appropriately collected and mapped to controls, your compliance management platform must make it accessible – before, during, and after the audit.
That means allowing for evidence to be uploaded, organized, and retrieved throughout the year as part of the preparation process for an audit. All that data collected through the year should then be available on-demand, throughout the actual audit process. Finally, after your audit is complete, you should be able to go back and view or retrieve any evidence at any time – especially if that same evidence can be used for another audit.
4. The Process, Step by Step
The audit process may be where you’ll feel the benefits of automating the audit the most. When you think of the “old-school” process of going through an audit, you likely think of a never-ending back-and-forth of emails, with unclear timelines and requests for information that come out of the blue – constant disruptions.
However, when the workflow of the audit is clearly laid out, it can operate smoothly. Having checklists, timelines, next-steps, to-do’s – all designed to keep you informed and your audit on track – it’s a gamechanger.
5. Collaboration: Messaging, Sharing, Chat
Email is so 2013. Many of us – especially those working in IT departments – have gotten accustomed to real-time chat, discussion boards, and rich collaboration tools in nearly everything we do.
Communication is key to a smooth, successful audit. There are often many participants across departments within a company, as well as the auditor outside the company. With messaging, sharing, and chat tools built directly into the compliance platform, communication becomes fast and seamless, and it’s far less likely for things to fall through the cracks.
6. The Crosswalk – Consolidated Audits
Finally, for many companies, their first audit is far from their only audit. Subject to multiple regulations, national or regional laws, and even industry standards, companies go through the audit process over and over again.
Through the concept of a crosswalk, audit automation makes it easy to identify controls that meet the requirements of other audits, including where work has already been completed and pointing out where gaps exist. The crosswalk drastically reduces redundant activities and boosts efficiency across your entire compliance operation throughout your organization.
Automation Will Continue to Have a Big Impact on Audits
Audit automation is relatively young, but it’s moving fast. Over the next few years we expect to see technologies like A-SCEND driving substantial efficiencies in the audit process and having a meaningful impact on risk and security organizations worldwide. Want to learn more about automating your audit? Learn about the A-SCEND compliance management platform or contact one of our compliance specialists today.