IT compliance is sort of like the forgotten stepchild of cyber security. It doesn’t get as much attention as data breach prevention technologies and policies, even though it is equally important.

Here’s why it should: While technology is sometimes to blame for security breaches, human error is a far more frequent culprit. Most organizations have technology use rules and policies in place to prevent these human errors, but without compliance they mean very little.

If your business hasn’t given much thought to compliance, you’re missing an important piece of the cyber security equation — putting yourself at greater risk of a data breach. However, with the right education programs, tools and strategies, you can turn that around.

What is IT compliance?

Before we dive into how to improve IT compliance, let’s take a closer look at what it really is. The term can be confusing because it refers to two separate but very interrelated things.

Internal IT compliance refers to how closely your employees adhere to the technology use and security policies you have in place. This includes everything from avoiding websites that are restricted to following the rules about what type of information can be shared over email to updating software and applications in a timely manner — the types of activities that go a long way toward data breach prevention.

External compliance is about how well the company adheres to outside regulations set by outside organizations like the government, regulatory bodies and law enforcement. Although external compliance violations can also lead to a data breach, they are more likely to lead to fines, penalties and a general loss of trust or good faith in the company.

How to improve IT compliance

No matter who sets the policies — your company’s leadership or a government organization — making sure employees follow them is an critical job that requires dedicated time and resources.

Creating policies without a strong effort to ensure compliance is kind of like setting rules for your children but not enforcing them. What are the chances kids will follow the rules without consequences? Along the same lines, how likely are your employees to follow policies designed to protect your data if they know no one is checking?

There are some simple steps you can take to drastically improve IT compliance. Among them:

  • Review your policies – First, make sure your policies are worth enforcing. Are they strong, fair, and do they reflect the latest data security best practices? If they could use improvement, address that before focusing on compliance.
  • Educate – Make sure your employees understand your technology use policies and why they’re in place. The why is very important — employees are more likely to comply if they understand how failing to do so could harm the company. Rather than sending out a policy via email and hoping employees read it, consider holding a short meeting or informational session.
  • Monitor – Implement employee monitoring software that alerts you to suspicious behavior or when rules are broken. This is one of the few ways you can identify compliance issues before they cause harm. Let employees know about this user activity monitoring, and explain why it is in place — to protect the company, everyone who works there and all your customers.
  • Designate a leader Someone within your organization should be in charge of IT compliance, including tasks like regularly reviewing policies, overseeing enforcement, and evaluating and implementing technology that tracks compliance. If no one in particular has ownership of the job, it won’t be done well.

Employee habits may not change overnight, but with a comprehensive strategy and plan of action in place, you can at least begin to shift company culture from day one — boosting IT compliance and further protecting your company from cyber security risks.

This piece originally appeared in IT Security Central and was reprinted with permission.