Thales Blog

Happy Compliance Officer Day!

September 26, 2023

Tim Phipps Tim Phipps | Director of Cloud Alliances More About This Author >

The summer vacation seems a distant memory and my wife and I are firmly back in the routine of our kids being at school – with the added benefiting of the extra peace and quiet during business calls.

One thing that changed this year is that our son asked if he could cycle to school with his friend. My wife and I deliberated, and eventually agreed on condition that he wore a helmet – as he does when he cycles with the family. Our son protested saying he didn’t want to because his friend doesn’t wear a helmet and he thought “he would look stupid”. We insisted that our son wearing a helmet was a pre-requisite to his cycling independence; reluctantly he agreed.

Coming home last week my son’s friend lost control of his bike as they were coming down a steep hill and he ended up in a ditch. Fortunately, the accident was minor - just a few scrapes and a bruised ego, but it could have been a lot worse. Now they both wear helmets when cycling to school and are thoroughly enjoying their new-found freedom.

Here’s the thing about compliance, most people know that it’s necessary, but it can often be seen as an arduous blocker to doing fun things like cycling on your own - or growing a business in a fast-paced digital economy!

Data breaches, brand damage and financial reputation.

In the world of IT, the compliance officer's role is not a glamorous one. Contemporary regulations are lengthy, dense, and complex documents. They are not easily digested or understood. To make matters worse, regulations can wreak havoc on even the world's largest and most influential organizations if not adhered to. This year, Ireland's Data Protection Commission (DPC) issued Meta an eye-watering £1bn fine for mishandling user data. Brand damage and loss of customer confidence can have even larger financial repercussions.

For many organizations, compliance officers are a lone bulwark against financial ruin. And their job poses internal and external challenges; it’s all too easy to blame compliance for killing an innovation-hungry business leader's idea because it would breach an important regulation. But compliance officers are so much more than that – they are the unsung heroes of business enablement.

As such, today, on National Compliance Officer Day, Thales celebrates the compliance officers who work tirelessly to keep their organizations afloat.

What is a compliance officer's role?

A compliance officer is a professional responsible for ensuring that a company or organization adheres to all relevant laws, regulations, policies, and industry standards that apply to its operations. The primary role of a compliance officer is to mitigate risks related to legal and ethical issues by establishing and maintaining effective compliance programs.

Key responsibilities of a compliance officer typically include:

  • Regulatory Compliance: Monitoring and interpreting laws and regulations that pertain to the industry and the organization, for example, the right to be forgotten. Compliance officers understand and ensure adherence to local, national, and sometimes international laws that govern business practices.
  • Policy Development: Creating and implementing internal policies and procedures that align with applicable laws and regulations. These policies help guide employees' actions and decisions within legal and ethical standards.
  • Risk Assessment: Identifying potential compliance risks within the organization's operations, products, and services. This involves conducting risk assessments and devising strategies to minimize and manage those risks.
  • Training and Education: Providing training sessions and educational materials to employees to raise awareness of compliance issues and ensure they understand the rules and regulations they must follow.
  • Monitoring and Reporting: Regularly reviewing the organization's activities and transactions to detect any instances of non-compliance. Compliance officers often set up monitoring systems and processes to track compliance efforts and report findings to senior management or regulatory bodies.
  • Investigations: Conducting investigations in response to reports of potential violations or irregularities. If any violations are found, the compliance officer may work with legal teams to address and rectify the situation.
  • Communication: Acting as a liaison between the organization and regulatory agencies, ensuring that required reports and documentation are submitted accurately and on time.
  • Audits: Coordinating internal and external audits to assess the organization's compliance with laws and regulations. This may involve working with auditors and other relevant stakeholders to address any identified issues.
  • Ethics and Integrity: Promoting a culture of ethical behavior and integrity throughout the organization by setting an example and encouraging employees to do the same.
  • Advisory Role: Guiding various departments within the organization on compliance matters, including new regulations, policy changes, and potential risks.

What’s the difference between a compliance officer and a DPO?

As compliance officers and data protection officers’ (DPO) are often confused, it’s worth taking a moment to outline the latter’s role and how it differs from a compliance officer’s.

A DPO’s duties are laid out in Article 39 of the GDPR. The regulation mandates that DPOs are responsible for data protection, monitoring compliance for GDPR, other national data protection laws, and policies established by controllers or processors for the protection, performing internal compliance audits, and acting as a liaison between the organization and supervisory bodies.

The key difference between a DPO and a compliance officer is that GDPR defines and mandates the DPO’s role. In contrast, the compliance officer’s role is not defined by any regulation and can differ from organization to organization. Compliance officers ensure compliance across all requirements, whereas DPOs focus solely on GDPR. DPOs also need independence to operate; compliance officers do not.

Personal development for compliance officers

Succeeding as a compliance officer requires a focus on self-improvement. The modern regulatory landscape is constantly evolving, meaning compliance officers must continuously seek to learn new ideas, skills, and concepts. One of the best ways to achieve this is through attending courses around governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC).

Certification programs focus on developing expertise in GRC and are designed to showcase an individual's knowledge and skills in integrating governance, performance management, risk management, and regulatory compliance within an organization.

Certified Governance, Risk and Compliance (CGRC) professionals also possess advanced technical skills and knowledge about protecting, authorizing, and maintaining information systems within various risk management frameworks. The certification covers several domains related to information security risk management, scope of information systems, selection and approval of security and privacy controls, implementation of controls, assessment and audit of controls, authorization/approval of information systems, and continuous monitoring. It is invaluable for compliance professionals.

But today is about celebrating compliance officers rather than asking them to improve. Take a moment to appreciate everything your compliance officer does for you and your company; they are absolutely critical to helping your organization mitigate risk so that it confidently delivers its businesses outcomes.