You may have heard of various compliance standards and frameworks, and you may have wondered why you need a certification, or which one is right for your organization. The driver could be that a prospect or customer inquired or maybe your organization wants to assess and improve its practices. SOC2 Type II is a great place to start. The governing body, AICPA (American Institute of Certified Public Accountants) does not specify any hard and fast requirements. At its core, this certification is helpful in demonstrating that your organization has implemented the necessary controls to keep data secure. However, it is not prescriptive. Each company must determine and implement suitable controls.

What does it mean to keep data secure? A company’s data must be protected from unauthorized access and use including deletion, misuse, alteration, and disclosure. Additionally, the company must prevent unauthorized use of its systems and assets. Vendors must be properly vetted. Changes must be authorized and managed while risks must be identified and mitigated to minimize potential disruption.

There is value in proving to your customers and partners that you will handle their data responsibly. If you’re ready to get started on the path to SOC2 certification, this article will give you an overview of what to expect.

If you’ve decided to pursue the SOC certification, it’s important to have a plan. You’ll need to determine what type of SOC, which criteria, and whether to cover the whole company or a subset. SOC2 Type II is the most common report. But there are other types with slightly different objectives. Of the five Trust Services Criteria, Security is required. But you may also have a need for privacy, confidentiality, processing integrity, or availability. Depending on the type of business and your org structure, SOC2 may apply to a limited subset of systems or groups.

Achieving and maintaining certification requires a commitment. Identifying a team of stakeholders who can lead and advocate throughout the process will help ensure success. Participants will likely be members of the technology, infrastructure, security, human resources, and legal teams – as well as a project owner and executive sponsor(s).

You may also want to engage an experienced external consultant or partner who can guide your organization through the preparation and remediation phases. This partner is different from the auditor who will eventually perform the certification. Their unbiased insights can overcome any reservations the team may have about exposing and addressing any shortcomings.

Once the team is mobilized, it’s important to educate your employees on what to expect as they may notice some changes in their day-to-day tasks. While the initial preparation could take 3-6 months, the team will need to follow best practices on an ongoing basis. Two important next steps will be determining which controls to implement and documenting any existing policies and procedures. These actions will help identify any gaps that exist and new tools or processes that might be necessary.

From there, develop a plan to address any missing or deficient areas. Prior to your audit, conducting a readiness assessment is recommended. Your external partner can help so that you will have complete confidence that your audit will have a positive outcome.