“I’m looking forward to going through the SOC 2 audit process!” said no one, ever.
Being able to demonstrate SOC 2 compliance can open doors for SaaS companies. After successfully completing the SOC 2 audit process, the clients your company attracts and their level of trust in you will increase. Sometimes dramatically!
But it’s also time and labor-intensive. This article will look at eight proven ways SaaS companies can streamline and accelerate the SOC 2 audit process. You’ll learn how to get through the hard part faster and enjoy the benefits sooner.
1. Avoid Internet Rabbit Holes
Google “SOC 2,” and you’ll get more than a million hits. There is a lot of information about the SOC 2 audit process out there. Some of it is good. Some of it is not-so-good. A lot of it is repetitive. And far too much of it is downright confusing (and unhelpful). Even the information on the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) website—the association that governs the audit process—is likely to leave you with more questions than answers.
Don’t spend too much time researching the process on the internet. You’ll get more clarity and accelerate the SOC 2 audit process by talking to someone in person. A compliance consultant, auditor, or one of the SOC 2 specialists at Tugboat Logic will help you understand how the audit process applies to your unique organization. And it will help determine what steps you need to take first.
2. Find an Auditor ASAP
It’s common to view auditors as the enemy.
But in a SOC 2 audit, it’s different. Your auditor is there to help you get through the process, and they can be a valued guide and support.
If you try to get all your documents and reporting in order before choosing an auditor, you’ll waste lots of time. You don’t know yet what the auditor is looking for in their review. Instead, make finding an auditor the first thing you do. Don’t worry if there are big gaps in your system: the auditor isn’t there to judge you for them. They are there to help you figure out the best way to address them and assist in moving along the SOC 2 audit process.
(For solid tips on choosing an auditor wisely, read How to Pick an Auditor for SOC 2 and Beyond.)
3. Approach the SOC 2 Audit Process With Honesty
Being honest with yourself and your auditor about shortcomings will help you get through the audit a lot faster. If this is your first audit, you might be tempted to present yourself to your auditor in your best light, hiding the less impressive aspects of your operations. Fight that urge!
By coming clean about your deficiencies, you can enlist your auditor’s support more effectively and address the problems faster. This is especially true of the gap assessment, a process during which you will need to compare your current policies, processes, and technologies to the framework set out by AICPA. If you can be honest during this part of the process, you’ll walk away with a clear set of next steps to address those gaps and prepare for a successful audit. If you gloss over the weak points in your systems and processes, it will trip you up and slow you down later on.
4. Choose Your “Type”
SOC 2 comes in two “flavors”—Type 1 and Type 2. You need to decide which type of audit you plan to undertake because it will significantly impact the amount of time and resources you allocate to the project.
Here’s a quick explanation of the differences between Type 1 and 2:
- Type 1 is a day-long audit of your system and security controls. It demonstrates that you understand security best practices and are working on implementing them. You can only get your Type 1 audit once.
- Type 2 looks at the same controls as Type 1, but over the course of 6-12 months. The reason for the long observation period is simple. For Type 1, an auditor only needs to see that you’ve designed the right controls. For Type 2, on the other hand, an auditor needs to see that you’ve designed AND operationalized the right controls. A longer observation period enables them to gather samples at random and attest that you’re compliant. To maintain SOC 2 Type 2, you need to get an audit every single year.
5. Choose Your Criteria
Every SOC 2 audit requires the company to choose from five Trust Services Criteria. But you don’t need to address all five to be SOC 2 compliant. In fact, only one criterion—security—needs to be covered in your report. The rest are 100% optional.
In other words, unless an RFP or a potential client requires you to include those additional criteria, which include availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy, you can leave them out.
That’s not to say that these criteria are not important or valuable. They definitely are. But in the interests of accelerating your first SOC 2 audit process, you may decide to limit the number of criteria and then tackle them during subsequent audits.
6. Create a Timeline
Based on our experience supporting hundreds of companies through the process, we know that a SOC 2 Type 1 audit typically takes 1 to 3 months. A SOC 2 Type 2 audit can take 6 to 12 months or longer. The audit process doesn’t come with built-in deadlines, so unless you set and stick to a timeline, that process can drag on and on.
That’s why it’s so important to set yourself a deadline as early as possible and work backward to assign milestones for key activities. For example:
- Week 1-2: Choose an auditor and evaluate audit workflow software
- Week 3: Conduct a gap assessment
- Weeks 4-5: Implement your security controls
- Week 6: Undergo an audit simulation
- Weeks 7-8: Submit a draft report
- Week 9: Undergo the audit
By setting a deadline and holding yourself accountable for hitting those milestones, you’ll stay on track and finish on time.
7. Get to Know the Security Controls
Implementing and documenting your security controls is one of the most time-consuming elements of the SOC 2 audit process. So getting them right will go a long way toward accelerating your progress.
Unfortunately, most SaaS companies quickly discover that there is very little guidance when selecting and defining those controls. Not even on the AICPA website offers much clear direction. With dozens of controls covering ten vital security dimensions, it’s easy for companies to end up spending a lot of time spinning their wheels while trying to figure out which controls to choose and what, exactly, they need to do to demonstrate their readiness.
Audit workflow software can help accelerate the SOC 2 audit process. They provide prebuilt policies and controls and a workflow to help companies choose and document ones that will establish trust and confidence in their service delivery.
(To learn more about security controls—and to find out which controls auditors look for and how you can implement them—read Tugboat’s “Control of the Week” blog series.)
8. Get Executive Buy-in
As with every organization-wide initiative, getting executive buy-in at the start of the project can make a big difference to the time it takes to complete. When your leadership team is on board and invested in the result, many roadblocks and delays tend to disappear.
The SOC 2 audit process may involve people outside your department, such as HR and finance. Unless you have a working relationship with those departments, you’ll need to rely on your executive leadership to motivate them.
Make sure you explain the importance of the process in terms your executives can understand. For example, will SOC 2 compliance help the company achieve a competitive advantage? Will it enable you to attract larger clients and secure more valuable contracts? Is a big RFP hanging in the balance? By reminding them of the financial and reputational stakes involved, you can ensure that they will be there to help keep the project moving.
More Guidance on the SOC 2 Audit
If you’re looking for more information and practical advice on how to get through your first SOC 2 audit, download The Ultimate Survival Guide to SOC 2 Compliance, a complete resource developed by the SOC 2 experts and former SOC 2 auditors on the Tugboat Logic team. The guide includes compliance steps and timelines, advice on choosing an auditor, and tips on accelerating the process and getting through it successfully.
Got questions? Still uncertain about SOC 2? Feel free to get in touch with us. We’re always happy to help.