Policy as Code Is Like Your Existing Policies — But Effective

Nov 3, 2022   |   By John Longo

Organizations still relying on document management systems to manage policies are missing out on valuable ways to optimize their operations. The processes required to maintain, share, and even make manual changes to policies tend to be time-consuming at best and susceptible to errors at worst. And for organizations that must adhere to strict compliance regulations, these manual practices can prolong an already lengthy approval process and introduce mistakes that can significantly slow key metrics like time-to-market.

If companies want to transform not only how their policies are stored but also how they’re enforced, Policy as Code (PaC) offers a clear path to efficiency and flexibility. With the Policy as Code approach, organizations can reduce uncertainty within the development process, increase production speed, and empower teams in ways other document management solutions simply can’t.

What Is Policy as Code?

Policy as Code is a policy management method that stores documents in a manner consistent with modern software development and allows for programmatic access and real-time enforcement of policy decisions. By deploying policies in a version-controlled environment and standardizing them in a consistent format, PaC creates a consistent way for systems to act upon policies. In this way, PaC transforms what once were drawn-out manual processes into code-automated procedures that open a world of possibilities for organizations to explore.

But what exactly does a policy look like as code? Here is a short example of how a standard policy statement can be translated into code:

Typical Policy Statement:
“Transaction data shall be stored for a maximum of 30 days.”

Reframed as a Question:
“Does the storage mechanism have an automated disposition action removing data greater than 30 days old?”

Question Refactored as Code:

data_retention := true {
    input.resources.s3_bucket.properties.DefaultRetention.Days = 30

By converting this policy statement into code, we can eliminate the need for teams to manually audit data storage assets. If the database or data appliance does not have the required properties at the time of creation, its deployment is blocked by the policy engine. The organization can be confident that the underlying deployed infrastructure will have already removed any data greater than 30 days old due to the rules set in place.

Why Should You Care?

Corporate Policies are notoriously hard to distribute, enforce, and monitor. That’s why every year, companies spend millions manually auditing digital, repeatable, and automatable policies.

In the financial sector alone, teams spend more than 10 hours a week performing tasks that could easily be automated. That adds up to 520 hours a year — an alarming amount of time lost, especially in today’s competitive market.

Not only are companies losing hundreds of hours performing and auditing manual tasks, but their teams — bogged down by compliance overhead — could inadvertently introduce errors during development, further bringing operations to a halt.

Even in simple systems, compliance errors can be disastrous in highly-regulated industries like finance, healthcare, and cybersecurity.

How Policy as Code Supports Your Team

Policy as Code isn’t just a means for better policy management but a way to improve business practices as a whole. By standardizing the language used to define policies and how we engage with them internally, PaC creates a set of best practices for organizations to follow. This centralized way to act upon corporate policies creates opportunities to improve metrics such as:

Quality & Innovation
Humans are bound to make mistakes that can create costly bottlenecks. That’s why we rely on IT systems to help us automate and streamline processes. Everything from employee onboarding and batch processing to billing and HR management can be regulated digitally to improve efficiency and quality. Most of all, it frees up teams anchored by manual processes to focus on other business areas, such as innovation.

Teamwork & Transparency 
When different departments depend on one another to make changes to documents or simply find out what modifications have been made in the past, it can make collaboration challenging. The PaC methodology provides a structured way to provision access. In doing so, everyone from senior executives to frontline staff can review and understand policy information, see what changes have been made, and contribute by making new configurations without slowing down the line.

The benefits of PaC can go beyond just improving workflows. The very practice of defining policies as code can help organizations identify unproductive policies to condense and streamline processes even further.

How PaC Can Help Your Software Development Cycle

Validation procedures, change audits, security testing: many stages make up an organization’s software development life cycle (SDLC), and PaC provides ways to boost development speed while minimizing risks. After implementing PaC, you can expect to:

  • Decrease Time-to-Market: One of the biggest and immediate benefits of implementing PaC practices is a faster time-to-market speed for your digital product. A policy engine connected to the code pipeline allows developers to test which controls might fail a quality scan before committing a piece to production. Not only does this give developers crucial insights into the code from a security and quality perspective, but it also encourages them to commit more often with smaller changes — meaning fewer roadblocks when it comes time to push something live.
  • Reduce Manual Reviews: Organizations that must adhere to strict compliance regulations may require several rounds of approvals before a project can move on to the next stage. But with a central policy engine enforcing those groups’ policies automatically, we can eliminate the need for certain manual reviews and approvals. As long as the code passes the policy check, it can graduate to the next stage.
  • Empower Your Teams: Whether providing a way for developers to have more information about the state of code or giving teams the ability to make changes directly to the codebase as business practices shift, PaC has boundless potential to empower teams. Rather than waiting an indeterminate amount of time to gain access to documents or software, PaC can auto-provision access to the users that need it, exactly when they need it.

How PaC Can Help Your Compliance Organization

For heavily-regulated industries that must comply with government standards such as PCI and SOX, HIPAA, PaC can enhance the security and visibility of various systems. By deploying PaC methods, your organization can drastically:

  • Improve Auditability: Every time a policy engine runs an evaluation, all the metadata generated during that process is recorded in a centralized database. When the time comes for a compliance review, your teams can quickly and easily provide any information the auditor may need by simply accessing the history log. Every change pushed, every policy check made, and the date those events occurred — observability is greatly improved using the PaC approach.
  • Reduce Uncertainty: PaC establishes a set of norms that can be easily followed by teams and acted upon by systems. Through features such as automated policy testing, decision-making, and access control, organizations can feel confident knowing they are complying with security and compliance measures because they can rely on the policy engine to perform consistent checks.

Implement Policy as Code with SEI’s Experts

Policy enforcement is crucial to ensuring your organization’s processes align with compliance regulations and internal business requirements. In addition to simplifying the way you store policy documents, Policy as Code can upgrade every stage of your delivery supply chain by automating manual processes that can slow down projects.

If you want to implement Policy as Code or learn more about ways it can improve your business practices, the specialists at SEI are here to help. Reach out to us today to get started and discover how you can make your current policies even more effective.

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