The Most Common Blind Spots in DevOps Governance and Compliance

Written by: Kara Phelps
5 min read

If you work in a highly regulated industry, audits are a fact of life. Yet somehow, even though you know they’re coming, audits never seem to get any easier for your development team. Why is that?

In many organizations, auditing is still an arduous fire drill. If your team isn't sufficiently prepared for an audit, it can be disruptive and invasive for everyone—leading to unplanned work and delayed progress.

So, how can you get ahead of the auditing process to ensure your team is always ready? How can you make DevOps governance and compliance as simple as possible?

It comes down to a shift in mindset. At an organizational level, security and compliance need to assume a higher priority. It’s easy to push back regulatory concerns until the proverbial eleventh hour, but this won’t benefit your team in the long term. In a recent episode of the Software Delivery Leadership Forum (SDLF), industry experts shared a wide range of insights into DevOps governance and compliance, including some of the most common blind spots and how to overcome them. We collected a few highlights of the discussion below—to dive in further, listen to the full episode.

Blind Spot #1: Neglecting the Importance of Auditing

Historically, organizations have often neglected auditing—until an audit happens and they have to deal with it. But now, auditors are starting to have an opportunity to get involved in the software development process in a much more intentional way. 

Auditors “see that opportunity to not just participate and be on a cross-functional team, but be part of that architected solution,” says Mitch Ashley, CEO and managing analyst of Accelerated Strategies Group. He says he’s met many auditors who are excited to “leap over barriers and break out of silos of the past” and help innovate. 

Rethinking auditing to fully integrate it into the software development process from the beginning will help, Mitch says. Organizations also need to elevate compliance to the level of importance it deserves.

At Fidelity Investments, for example, software delivery as well as security and compliance are considered equal partners. Each is “a first class pillar to all we’re doing,” says Ger McMahon, head of ALM tools and platforms at Fidelity. “They're very important and critical to the success of the platform. Our Risk and Audit teams are key business partners and an extension of our team, participating in requirements gathering, demonstrations and architectural designs. We actually have security personnel embedded in our development teams.”

Blind Spot #2: The Idea That “What Worked Yesterday Will Work Tomorrow”

Many organizations operate under the assumption that regulatory concerns are static, but in the new world of containers and the cloud, what is? Audit and compliance processes will need to adapt soon, says Prakash Sethuraman, CISO at CloudBees. 

“The cloud and container technology are a true paradigm shift, in that you have to think very differently to get the benefits of that environment,” Prakash says. “So, the audit and compliance processes that existed yesterday probably don’t work for the new world that’s coming. The requirements from the regulators are not as fluid as technology has been over the same time period. Most organizations forget that, and try to adapt existing processes to better workflows, when actually we need to totally rethink compliance for this new world.” 

Blind Spot #3: Negative Thinking Around Compliance

Development teams often approach audits with dread. Across development teams, there’s typically a lot of trust, Ger says—“but from an audit perspective, very little verification.” And so, when it’s time to audit, it’s an invasive and time-consuming process to go through every component of every team and every application and track down the necessary data. It’s also time spent away from business value-generating projects, which is a step in the wrong direction.

Teams need to be able to capture data for audits in an automated way. The DevOps approach, where teams shift left and automate as much as possible, has paved the way for better documentation, testing and compliance throughout the software delivery lifecycle, not just at the very end. “It helps us really set ourselves up to be able to capture information in a way that’s meaningful for reporting for compliance and regulatory requirements,” Mitch says.

At an organizational level, there should also be more education around compliance—after all, it’s critical for ensuring the safety of the organization and its employees and customers. “We need to make sure that compliance is not seen as a negative thing, and it’s not seen as a hindrance or a deterrent to going fast. It just needs to be much more contextual, and it needs to be in process rather than something that happens at the end,” Prakash says. 

It’s easy to say and tougher to do in an organization—but developers and compliance can collaborate better if they understand the other team’s challenges and successes. Better empathy and understanding on both sides will go a long way.

To learn more about how your organization can overcome its blind spots around auditing and other regulatory issues, check out the most recent SDLF discussion, “How to Nail DevOps Governance and Compliance in a Highly Regulated Industry.”

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