The Technology Dilemma: Is Greater Compliance Technology Worth the Cost?
In addition to building a company’s reputation for integrity and ethical conduct, investing in compliance seeks to avoid the future costs of noncompliance. However, it is often impossible to place a value on these avoided costs that have not been and, hopefully, will not be incurred. At best, this is an exercise in educated speculation, and companies recognize this uncertainty.
Companies generally choose to make technology investments that have a higher certainty of a positive return on an investment or cost savings. Therefore, unless a company is already facing costs for non-compliance, a company may often choose to invest in technology with a more quantifiable, certain return than technology that is intended to yield less quantifiable compliance benefits.
Nevertheless, technology and increased automation can have a very positive impact on the effectiveness of compliance programs. In many cases, the magnitude of the costs associated with non-compliance are so great that these compliance-related expenditures can be one of the best long term investments that a company can make.
“The magnitude of the costs associated with non-compliance is so great that these compliance-related expenditures can be one of the best long term investments that a company can make”
This tension between the certainty of other technology investments and the speculative nature of returns on compliance technology creates a dilemma for companies. There may not be a complete solution for this dilemma. However, understanding the benefits of compliance may be difficult to quantify in monetary terms, compliance and legal professionals can appropriately and effectively promote investment in compliance by carefully evaluating alternatives and prioritizing selected technology initiatives.
Consider “low tech” alternatives
When evaluating a compliance technology, compare the costs and benefits of any “low tech” alternatives and compare them to the cost and benefits of the proposed technology. “Low tech” alternatives typically avoid the licensing and implementation costs of more “high tech” solutions. In addition, they are often more easily updated and may involve significantly less organizational burden. For example, compliance departments may wish to replace forms with automated online submission systems. However, forms can be easily updated, changed and distributed by almost anyone; online submission systems may require expert IT assistance to change and update. Moreover, the database underlying an online system will also require greater, more active oversight to ensure compliance with data privacy and document retention requirements.
Distribution of information
Using technology to distribute information leverages economies of scale and provides “on demand” access to employees. Company intranets and online training can provide compliance information and resources to personnel around the world at any time. However, these benefits have limitations. For example, online training may permit significant cost savings per employee trained, but instructorled, “face-to-face” training results in greater content retention by trainees.
Selecting compliance technology initiatives
Compliance technology that both reduces existing costs and increases compliance program effectiveness would obviously be the ideal investment of resources. In most cases, however, compliance technology that increases compliance program effectiveness will increase costs. In some cases, utilizing technology to automate compliance processes may make them less effective, but it may produce sufficient cost savings that can be put to higher value uses that would yield a higher net return.
When selecting compliance technology initiatives, involve experts that can assist in the evaluation. Far too often, compliance and legal professionals lack the experience in IT implementation to properly judge the costs. Moreover, lengthy budgetary approval and delivery schedules may push implementation too far into the future to promptly address urgent compliance risks.
Anticipate post-implementation costs and constraints
Once compliance technology has been deployed, it must be utilized, maintained and updated. This will require resources— often more than originally anticipated. Additionally, policy and process changes will need to consider the limitations of the technology, and modifications to the technology and/or the relevant compliance policies and processes may be required.