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Compliance Testing vs. Conformance Testing: Which One Do You Need?

Compliance testing and conformance testing are frequently used interchangeably, and you could even consider compliance testing to be a form of conformance testing. This leaves many organizations scratching their heads over which type of testing they actually need to perform. Let’s compare compliance testing vs conformance testing and discuss their differences so you can determine which form of testing is right for you.

Compliance Testing vs Conformance Testing: What’s the Difference?

Compliance testing ensures that you’re in compliance with specific laws and regulations, whereas conformance testing verifies that you’re conforming to an industry standard, technical specification, or contract. As you might imagine, there can be significant overlap between the two. Your conformance standards (for example, a contract SLA) may require compliance with a law or regulation; conversely, conformance with an industry standard may be required to meet legal compliance regulations. Conformance testing is a broader category of testing, and can actually include legal and regulatory conformance as a requirement.

 

Compliance Testing

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Verifies that your systems and software are compliant with legal and regulatory standards (e.g. HIPAA or PCI/DSS). Verifies that your systems and software conform to industry standards, certifications, or contracts. Can also include conformance to legal and regulatory standards.

Compliance Testing vs Conformance Testing: Which One Do You Need?

Though compliance testing and conformance testing are very similar, and frequently overlap with each other, you can’t necessarily use them interchangeably. How do you know which type of testing you need?

Compliance Testing

The internet used to be somewhat of a wild west for businesses, with legal compliance only an issue for organizations working in heavily regulated fields like finance and healthcare. However, the law is starting to catch up with technology, as evidenced by the flood of data privacy regulations sweeping across the globe—the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, for instance, or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the U.S.

If your enterprise’s software, systems, or data fall under any laws or regulations, you should conduct compliance testing to ensure you’re meeting all of the necessary requirements. A compliance test is essentially a practice audit—a team of regulatory experts (ideally, in your specific field) will analyze your systems, processes, and security controls to make sure you’re compliant. If your compliance testers identify any issues, they’ll provide detailed recommendations for how to remediate them, and then conduct follow-up testing to verify that all issues have been resolved.

Compliance tests are generally conducted by a third-party organization of experts in the specific laws and regulations you’re testing for, though very large companies will sometimes maintain an in-house team for this.

Compliance testing isn’t the same as an audit, which is required by law, but it’s an optional self-check that can be extremely helpful in preparing for an audit. Compliance testing will help you identify the weak points in your compliance program—for instance, maybe your staff needs more in-depth training, or your security controls are inadequate, or your administrative policies need to be more precise. This allows you to address and remediate any compliance issues before an auditor finds them.

Conformance Testing

Conformance testing, on the other hand, is about meeting specific industry, technical, or contractual standards that may or may not overlap with legal compliance requirements. Conformance testing is generally focused on the performance of your software and systems and whether or not you’re meeting certain benchmarks. There are three basic types of conformance testing:

  1. Load Testing – Verifying that your software performs at a certain level under real-life load conditions.

  2. Stress Testing – Verifying the stability of your software or systems under extreme load conditions.

  3. Volume Testing – Verifying the performance of your software while processing a high volume of data.

The specific benchmarks you need to meet will depend on the standards set by your industry’s governing body (e.g. the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or IEEE), your contract SLA, or other technical specifications. Almost every organization requires their software to conform to some sort of standard, even if it’s just a promise made in a contract, so almost every organization can benefit from conformance testing.

Conformance testing may be required (like a compliance audit), or you might decide to conduct optional conformance testing to ensure the quality and interoperability of your software and systems. Either way, conformance testing helps you produce a high-quality end product that satisfies all customer, contractual, and industry requirements.

Implementing a Compliance and Conformance Testing

If your organization must comply with legal or regulatory standards, and you’re routinely audited to verify compliance, then you should implement a compliance testing program. If your systems and software must conform to industry standards or meet certain contractual requirements, then you may benefit from conformance testing.

It’s fairly easy for most organizations to determine whether they need compliance testing vs conformance testing. The trickier part is actually achieving compliance and conformance, and then ensuring that you don’t slip out of compliance or conformance through neglect or complacency.