Visualizing Compliance: A Board Member Example

Bailey Bliss

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The 21st century businessperson is awash in information. The historical and still predominant form of non-verbally conveying that information is through words – whether in Twitter messages of 140 characters or less, or lengthier documents.And since most compliance professionals have legal training, the idea that anything other than written language in document form can provide complete topic coverage and the necessary detail is often viewed as heresy. A board member asks for an overview of the company’s compliance program? “No problem. Here’s a 17-page document.”

But to some of us in the compliance field, the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” understates the case. We use visual forms of information – static and dynamic – to help manage and simplify compliance. Words are present, but there are far fewer of them, and they basically operate to help explain and amplify the main messages expressed in visual forms.

Maps: Program and process snapshots

Let’s revisit the compliance program overview request from the board member, except this time the answer is this:

No problem! Let’s meet in the main conference room. I have a large format (e.g. 2’ x 3’) map that shows how the program operates and how the various components interrelate. I also have sub-maps that show how we manage higher risk operational areas.

The above scenario involves the use of a static tool – a point in time depiction of a program expressed in process flows and other graphical representations – to turn what was a passive exercise (reading 17 pages) into an interactive information exchange. The board member, in his/her program oversight role, may get a different and deeper understanding of how the program operates through the “big picture” visualization, the related discussion and the opportunity to ask questions. The compliance chief may get a better idea of what parts of the program are more difficult for non-practitioners to understand, and the relative risk prioritization of board members, among other useful insights.

Compliance management systems: Real time program component views

The map review reminds the board member of a question arising from reading recent media reports of corruption in Africa: how many anti-corruption policy violations has our globally operating company experienced in the region in the last 2 years, and what kind of training is being conducted?

The compliance chief using a cloud-based compliance management information system has that information readily available. From the conference room’s projector attached to a laptop using one of the better compliance management software applications, the 2-year data is quickly brought up in graphical forms. Real-time comparisons are made to 1-year and 6-month periods. Training emphases, the risk assessment underlying the approach and completion rates are similarly available – with data manipulation possible during, and adding to, the conversation.

Importantly, the discussion around the meaning of the data is primary. There is essentially no time lag between the time of the board member’s question and the detailed responses (accompanied by the capability to drill deeper) tied to the particular aspect of the program under discussion. The process of obtaining and manipulating the data is peripheral; the “I’ll get back to you next week” response is no longer necessary.

Visualized compliance information is useful in a variety of circumstances – with board members and other key process participants. Future articles will explore some of these other situations.

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