“For everything there is a season,” a wise man once said. So what season are we currently in for compliance? Let’s consider an example from our predecessors to find out. Warning: This post may spark some nostalgia for cargo shorts and rollerblades.
Sony’s MiniDisc player, introduced in 1992, had a capacity of 60 minutes or 74 minutes of digital audio (about 17 or 20 songs, respectively). Later in its development, that number swelled to 80 minutes.
It might not have been able to hold more music than a tape cassette or a CD, but it was much smaller. It also featured groundbreaking “anti-skip” technology so you could listen to your music while being doing vigorous activities like skateboarding.
Consumers were thrilled. The MiniDisc was a small, trendy, well-designed music player for the modern world. A clear improvement over existing portable cassette and CD players. A Sony ad from 1999 called it “The absolute best way to record your music.” But then, something unexpected happened.
In October 2001, the original iPod was released, and it had far more capacity. It didn’t use discs that could be replaced; instead it used a hard drive and MP3s. Apple’s ad campaign at the time was “Say hello to iPod. 1,000 songs in your pocket.” It may look antiquated by today’s standards, but it was revolutionary.
When Sony eventually wound down production of the MiniDisc player in 2012, the company had sold around 22 million devices.
The iPod got off to a slow start. Apple only sold 125,000 in the quarter it was released. It took nearly two years for the Cupertino company to sell its first million. But by 2014, Apple had sold more than 390 million iPods (and 35 billion songs) to customers wanting to bring their musical proclivities into the digital age.
Is compliance a MiniDisc or an iPod right now?
There is nothing wrong with a MiniDisc. It leverages incremental technological improvements — building from tape cassettes to CDs to MiniDiscs — to solve the same problem, but a little better. I want to listen to music on the go.
An iPod, on the other hand, uses a very different approach to solve the same problems and give the consumer something 50 times better. In short, it’s the future. (Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player; that’s a topic for another day.)
Perhaps compliance is an iPod, where the most recent improvements have blown the socks off everyone, but I don’t think that’s the case. Compliance has come a long way. Still, it’s largely built on legacy and derivative products and processes designed for something else, made to work for compliance. While compliance has evolved tremendously over the past decade, solutions to prevent and detect corruption are largely the same.
Viewing compliance as a MiniDisc is much more optimistic. That puts us on the cusp of mega breakthroughs — new thinking, new technology, new legislation, and new generations of professionals — to solve old problems 50 times better.
The compliance community is filled with incredibly talented, skilled, and hard-working people. Maybe it’ll be you who cracks it, or the person sitting next to you. Either way, it’ll be undeniable when it happens.
Compliance is primed for an iPod moment, and that’s exciting.