Recently the word \u201ccompliance\u201d has been used, reused and over-used. The problem is that vendors are using the term to describe totally different things, which makes it very confusing and difficult to know what they\u2019re talking about.First, there are the regulatory compliance issues many companies are dealing with, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and so forth. The use of the word \u201ccompliance\u201d in this situation is descriptive because companies are required to comply with governmental regulations, such as HIPAA, which deals with the privacy of patient information. Many companies have been struggling to meet the compliance timetables of some of these regulations.Then there is the use of \u201ccompliance\u201d to describe the compliance of IT infrastructure and user behavior with corporate policies. In IT management, this can touch a wide range of areas and issues. Some of these policies affect areas such as data retention, e-mail archiving, software (application) use, server configurations, desktop configurations, network device configurations, e-mail use, personal firewall use, virus scanning, security, data access and use, PDA applications and usage, and more.Although each of these areas involves compliance with corporate policies, the areas of compliance are so disparate that this is one of the areas in which using the word presents the potential for a lot of confusion.Just take a look at the security area alone. There are compliance issues with network and system configurations, virus scanning, securing access to data and applications, firewall use, role-based access and so forth. Security-related \u201ccompliance\u201d not only spans across all areas of security but also touches all other areas of the infrastructure, including systems, networks, databases, storage, applications and so forth.Compliance has also been used to describe software-licensing compliance, as in making sure that you are only using the number of copies of software that your company has licensed from a vendor. This kind of compliance would involve using management tools that deal with software inventories, software metering and software usage.I\u2019m sure I\u2019ve missed some other uses of the term \u201ccompliance\u201d in management. It\u2019s not possible to cover every usage, at least not in the amount of space that Network World allots me.Nevertheless, it\u2019s clear that we\u2019re certainly already exposed to a lot of different usages of the word. So here are a few tips when looking for tools related to compliance.First, if you\u2019re looking for something to help you solve a compliance issue that you\u2019re dealing with, be sure to clearly define your requirements and understand exactly what you\u2019re looking for.Second, have a clear understanding of what each vendor means by compliance, and how their products address it.Third, be sure you\u2019re comparing apples to apples. Some products may tout \u201ccompliance\u201d because a subset of what they do can be used in the process of compliance, while other products are specifically designed to help solve compliance problems.I wish you good luck in sifting through all the compliance tools and services out there. It\u2019s not an easy task, and it\u2019s not for the faint of heart.