Working with assessment templates in Compliance Manager

In this article: Understand how templates work and how to manage them from your assessment templates page. Get instructions for creating new templates, extending and modifying existing templates, formatting your template data with Excel, and exporting template reports.

Important

The assessment templates that are available to your organization depend on your licensing agreement. Review the details.

Templates overview

A template is a framework of controls for creating an assessment in Compliance Manager. Our comprehensive set of templates can help your organization comply with national, regional, and industry-specific requirements governing the collection and use of data.

We refer to templates by the same name as their underlying certification or regulation, such as the EU GDPR template and the ISO/IEC 27701:2019 template. Since Compliance Manger can be used to assess different types of products, each template comes in two versions: one that applies to Microsoft 365, and a universal version that can be tailored to suit your chosen product.

Note that US Government Community (GCC) Moderate, GCC High, and Department of Defense (DoD) customers can currently use the Microsoft 365 template versions, but not universal.

Template availability and licensing

There are two categories of templates in Compliance Manager: included and premium.

  1. Included templates are granted by your Compliance Manager license and cover key regulations and requirements. To learn more about what templates are available under your licensing agreement, see licensing details.
  2. Premium templates to cover additional needs and scenarios can be obtained by purchasing template licenses.

When you begin creating assessments, Compliance Manager will track how many templates are active so you can monitor your usage. To learn more, see Active and inactive templates.

View the full list of templates available in Compliance Manager.

Purchase premium template licenses

Template licenses can be obtained by one or more of these methods, depending on your Compliance Manager licensing agreement. Once your purchase has been finalized, the templates should become available in your tenant within 48 hours.

Commercial and GCC Moderate

Commercial and GCC Moderate accounts can purchase template licenses in the admin center (learn more about subscriptions, licenses, and billing). Select the quantity of licenses you wish to purchase and your payment plan.

Purchase links:

You may also acquire licenses through your participation in the Cloud Solution Provider program or volume licensing.

GCC High and DOD accounts

GCC High and DOD accounts must purchase template licenses through volume licensing.

Try out premium templates

To try out premium templates before you make a purchase, you may also acquire trial versions of the licenses. Trial licenses are good for up to 25 templates for 90 days. Once you obtain your trial license, the templates should become available in your tenant within 48 hours.

To start a trial, choose the appropriate link for your organization:

Active and inactive templates

Templates will display an activation status as either active or inactive:

  • A template is considered active once you create an assessment from that template.
  • A template is considered inactive if your organization isn’t using it for an assessment.

If you link any assessments to a purchased premium template, that template will be active for one year. Your purchase will automatically renew unless you cancel.

You may also try premium templates on a trial basis. Trial licenses are good for up to 25 templates for 30 days. Once your trial begins, the templates should become available in your tenant within 48 hours. Trials can be activated through the Microsoft 365 admin center.

Activated templates counter

Your assessment page and assessment templates page have an activated templates counter near the top. The counter displays the number of templates in use out of the number you're eligible to use according to your licensing agreement. Template use is counted at the certification level.

For example, if your counter shows 2/5, this means your organization has activated 2 templates out of the 5 that are available to use.

If your counter shows 5/2, this indicates that your organization exceeds its limits and needs to purchase 3 of the premium templates in use.

Microsoft 365 and universal versions of templates have joint licensing, so that you can use the same underlying certification across more than one product. Using either or both versions of the same template will only count as one activated template.

For further details, see Compliance Manager licensing guidance.

View and manage templates

The assessment templates page in Compliance Manager displays a list of templates and key details about them. The list includes templates provided by Compliance Manager as well as any templates your organization has modified or created. You can apply filters to find a template based on certification, product scope, country, industry, who created it, and whether the template is enabled for assessment creation.

Select a template from its row to bring up its details page. This page contains a description of the template and further information about certification, scope, and controls details. From this page you can select the appropriate buttons to create an assessment, export the template data to Excel, or modify the template.

Format template data with Excel

The Excel spreadsheet (download an example) used to create or modify templates has a specific format and schema that must be used in order to import correctly into Compliance Manager. It contains four tabs, three of which are required:

  1. Template (required)
  2. ControlFamily (required)
  3. Actions (required)
  4. Dimensions (optional)

When filling out your spreadsheet with template data, the spreadsheet must include the tabs in the order listed above, otherwise your data won't successfully import to a template.

Template tab

The Template tab is required. The information in this tab provides metadata about the template. There are four required columns. The columns must retain the order on the Excel sheet as listed below. You can add your own column after the four columns to provide your own dimensions. If you do this, be sure to add them to the Dimensions tab.

  • title: This is the title for your template, which must be unique. It can't share a name with another template you have in Compliance Manager, including your own templates or a Compliance Manager template.

  • product: This is a required dimension. List the product associated with the template.

  • certification: This is the regulation you're using for the template.

  • inScopeServices: These are the services within the product that this assessment addresses (for example, if you listed Office 365 as the product, Microsoft Teams could be an in-scope service). You can list multiple services separated by two semi-colons.

Note

The data you insert in the product and certification cells can't be edited after you import the spreadsheet to create or customize a template. Also, a group can't contain two assessments that have the same product/certification combination. You can have multiple templates with the same product/certification combination.

ControlFamily tab

The ControlFamily tab is required. The required columns in this tab, which must follow the order provided in the sample spreadsheet, are:

  • controlName: This is the control name from the certification, standard, or regulation, which is typically some type of ID. Control names must be unique within a template. You can't have multiple controls with the same name in the spreadsheet.

  • controlFamily: Provide a word or phrase for the controlFamily, which identifies a broad grouping of controls. A controlFamily doesn't have to be unique; it can be listed more than once in a spreadsheet. The same controlFamily can also be listed in multiple templates, though they have no relation to each other. Every controlFamily must be mapped to at least one control.

  • controlTitle: Provide a title for the control. Whereas the controlName is a reference code, the title is a rich text format typically seen in the regulations.

  • controlDescription: Provide a description of the control.

  • controlActionTitle: This is the title of an action that you want to relate to this control. You can add multiple actions by separating by two semi-colons with no space in between. Every control you list must include at least one action, and the action must exist (which means you can list an action that you list on the Actions tab of the same spreadsheet, an action that exists in a different template, or an action created by Microsoft). Different controls can reference the same action.

Actions tab

The Actions tab is required. It designates improvement actions managed by your organization and not those of Microsoft, which already exist in Compliance Manager. The required columns for this tab, which must follow the order provided in the sample spreadsheet, are:

  • actionTitle: This is the title for your action and is a required field. The title you provide must be unique. Important: if you reference an action you own that already exists (such as in another template) and you modify any of its elements in the subsequent columns, those changes will propagate to the same action in other templates.

  • implementationType: In this required field, list one of the three implementation types below:

    • Operational - actions implemented by people and processes to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of organizational systems, assets, data, and personnel (example: security awareness and training)
    • Technical - actions completed by using technology and mechanisms contained in the hardware, software, or firmware components of the information system to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of organizational systems and data (example: multi-factor authentication)
    • Documentation - actions implemented through documented policies and procedures establishing and defining the controls required to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of organizational systems, assets, data, and personnel (example: an information security policy)
  • actionScore: In this required field, provide a numeric score value for your action. The value must be a whole number ranging from 1 to 99; it cannot be 0, null, or blank. The higher the number, the greater its value toward improving your compliance posture. The image below demonstrates how Compliance Manager scores controls:

    Compliance Manager controls point values.

  • actionDescriptionTitle: This is the title of the description and is required. This description title allows you to have the same action in multiple templates and surface a different description in each template. This field helps you clarify what template the description is referencing. In most cases, you can put the name of the template you're creating in this field.

  • actionDescription: Provide a description of the action. You can apply formatting such as bold text and hyperlinks. This is required field.

  • dimension-Action Purpose: This is an optional field. If you include it, the header must include the "dimension-" prefix. Any dimensions you include here will be used as filters in Compliance Manager and appear on the improvement actions details page in Compliance Manager.

Dimensions tab

The Dimensions tab is optional. However, if you reference a dimension elsewhere, you need to specify it here if it does not exist in a template you've already created or in a Microsoft template. The columns for this tab are listed below:

  • dimensionKey: list as "product", "certifications," "action purpose"
  • dimensionValue: examples: Office 365, HIPPA, Preventative, Detective

When you export an existing template, the exported spreadsheet will have the Dimensions tab, which lists all the dimensions used in the template.

Create an assessment template

To create your own new template for custom assessments, you'll use your specially formatted Excel spreadsheet to assemble the necessary control data. After completing the spreadsheet, you will import it into Compliance Manager.

Required roles

Only users who hold a Global Administrator or Compliance Manager Administration role can create and modify templates. Learn more about roles and permissions.

Create new template in Compliance Manager

  1. Go to your assessment templates page in Compliance Manager.
  2. Select Create new template. A template creation wizard will open.
  3. Choose the type of template you want to create. In this case, select Create a custom template, then select Next.
  4. At the Upload file screen, select Browse to find and upload your formatted Excel file containing all the required template data.
  5. If there are no problems with your file, the name of the file uploaded will be displayed. Select Next to continue. (If you need to change the file, select Upload a different file).
    • If there’s an error with your file, an error message at the top explains what’s wrong. You’ll need to fix your file and upload it again. Errors will result if your spreadsheet is formatted improperly, or if there’s invalid information in certain fields.
  6. The Review and finish screen shows the number of improvement actions and controls and the maximum score for the template. When ready to approve, select Create template. (If you need to make changes, select Back.)
  7. The last screen confirms a new template has been created. Select Done to exit the wizard.
  8. You’ll arrive at your new template’s details page, where you can create your assessment.

Extend Microsoft 365 assessment templates

Compliance Manager offers the option to add your own controls and improvement actions to an existing Microsoft-provided template. This process is called extending a Microsoft template. When you extend a template, it can still receive updates released by Microsoft, which may happen when there are changes to the related regulation or product (see Accept updates to assessments).

Note that if you're setting up assessments for products other than Microsoft 365, your process will differ. To learn more, see Extend universal assessment templates.

Prepare template data and create extension

To prepare, you’ll need to assemble a specially formatted Excel spreadsheet to import the necessary template data. The Excel files follow the same general format outlined above, but there are special requirements for extensions. See these additional points to help prevent errors:

  • Your spreadsheet should contain only the actions and controls you want to add to the assessment.
  • The spreadsheet can’t contain any of the controls or actions that already exist in the assessment you want to modify.
  • Consider including “extension” in your template’s title, for example, “GDPR – [your company name] extension.” This makes it easier to identify in the list on your assessment templates page as distinct from the standard Microsoft-provided template or a custom template with a similar name.

After you format your spreadsheet, follow the steps below.

  1. Go to your Assessment templates page and select Create new template. A template creation wizard will open.

  2. Choose the type of template you want to create. In this case, select Extend a Microsoft template, then Select Microsoft template.

  3. A template selection flyout pane appears on the right side of your screen, showing a list of all templates and their status of active or inactive. Your activated templates counter shows how many templates are currently in use out of the total number available to use. If you’re over your limit, a message bar will provide notice.

  4. A template selection flyout pane appears on the right side of your screen. Use Search to apply filters for locating the template you want

  5. Once you locate your template, select the radio button to the left of its name, then select Save.

  6. The next screen shows the template you selected. If correct, select Next. (If incorrect, choose Select a different template to choose again.)

  7. At the Upload file screen, select Browse to find and upload your formatted Excel file containing all the required template data.

  8. If there are no problems with your file, the next screen shows the name of the file uploaded. Select Next to continue (if you need to change the file, select Upload a different file).

    • If there’s a problem with your file, an error message at the top explains what’s wrong. You’ll need to fix and re-upload your file. Errors will result if your spreadsheet is formatted improperly, or if there’s invalid information in certain fields.
  9. The Review and finish screen shows the number of improvement actions and controls and the maximum score for the template. When ready to approve, select Next. (If you need to make changes, select Upload a different file.)

  10. The last screen confirms a new template has been created. Select Done to exit the wizard.

  11. You’ll arrive at your new template’s details page. From here you can create your assessment by selecting Create assessment. For guidance, see Build and manage assessments.

Extend universal assessment templates

Universal versions of templates can also be extended to customize your product-specific assessments. You will receive a special extension template when you create an assessment using a universal template and the assessment has a unique product and certification combination. This can be modified to meet your needs. For guidance on how to edit the template, see the instructions below on modifying a template.

When editing a universal template, all content in the template can be changed, but doing so will break inheritance with the parent template. This means that it will no longer automatically receive updates from Microsoft if the parent template is refreshed.

Modify a template

You may want to modify a template you’ve already created, such as to add controls, or add or remove improvement actions. The process is similar to the template creation process in that you’ll upload formatted Excel file with your template data.

However, there are details to be aware of as you format your file with changes to existing template data. We recommend you review these instructions carefully to ensure you don’t overwrite any existing data that you want to retain.

Format your Excel file to modify an existing template

From your assessment templates page, select the template you want to modify, which will bring up its details page. Then select Export to Excel. An Excel file with all your template data will download. Save the file to your local machine.

To work with this file, jump to a section below to quickly find the instructions you need:

Edit the main template attributes

On the Templates tab, you can edit anything in the title column, the inScopeServices column, and in any other column you may have added. However, you can't edit anything in the product or certification columns.

Add an improvement action

  1. Go to the Actions tab. Add your information in the required fields in the first empty row underneath your existing actions.
  2. Go to your ControlFamily tab. Find the row containing the control your improvement action maps to. Add your new action to the controlActionTitle column in that row (remember to separate multiple actions in this field with two semi-colons, no space in between).
  3. Save your spreadsheet.

Edit an improvement action's information

You can change any improvement action's information except for its title. You can edit any cell from columns B onward, and when you import the file back into the template, the improvement actions in that template will now contain the updated data.

You cannot edit the actionTitle (column A) because if you do, Compliance Manager considers this to be a new improvement action. If you want to change an improvement action's name, see the instructions immediately below.

Change an improvement action’s name

If you want to change the name of an improvement action, you have to explicitly designate in the spreadsheet that you are replacing an existing name with a new name. Follow these steps:

  1. In the Actions tab of your spreadsheet, add a new column to the spreadsheet after column A.
  2. In this new column, which is now column B, put as its header in row 1: oldActionTitle.
  3. Copy the contents of column A and paste them into column B. This puts your existing improvement action titles, which are what you want to change, into column B.
  4. In column A, actionTitle, delete the old name and replace it with the new name for your improvement action.

Note that action titles, both for your improvement actions and for Microsoft actions, must be written in English in order to be recognized when referenced in controls.

Remove an improvement action

To remove an improvement action from a template, you'll need to remove it from every control that references it. Follow the steps below to modify your spreadsheet:

  1. On the ControlFamily tab, search for for the title of the improvement action you want to remove.
  2. Delete the improvement action's title in the cells where it appears. If the improvement action is the only action on that row, delete the entire row (which removes the control).
  3. On the Actions tab, delete the row that contains the improvement action you're deleting.
  4. Save your spreadsheet.

When you import your spreadsheet back into the template, your improvement action will be removed from the template.

Removing an improvement action from a template does not completely remove the improvement action from Compliance Manager. That action can still be referenced by another template.

Remove a control

To remove a control, modify your spreadsheet by following the steps below, then re-import your spreadsheet:

  1. On the ControlFamily tab, find the control you want to remove in the controlName column.

  2. Delete the row for that control.

    • If this deleted control contains improvement actions that aren't referenced by any other control, you'll need to remove those improvement actions from the Actions tab. Otherwise, you'll receive a validation error.
  3. Save your spreadsheet.

When you import your spreadsheet back into the template, your control will be removed from the template.

Modify template info in Compliance Manager

After your Excel file is completed and saved, follow these steps.

  1. Open the assessment template page again and select your template. At your template’s details page, select Modify template to initiate the modification wizard.

  2. At the Upload file screen, select Browse to find and upload your Excel file.

  3. If there are no problems with your file, the next screen shows the name of the file uploaded. Select Next to continue (if you need to change the file, select Upload a different file).

    • If there’s a problem with your file, an error message at the top explains what’s wrong. You’ll need to fix your file and upload it again. Errors will result if your spreadsheet is formatted improperly, or if there’s invalid information in certain fields.
  4. The Review and finish screen shows the number of improvement actions and controls and the maximum score for the template. When ready to approve, select Next.

  5. The last screen confirms that the template has been modified. Select Done to exit the wizard.

Your template will now include the changes you made. Any assessments that use this modified template will now show pending updates, and you’ll need to accept the updates to the assessments to reflect the changes made in the template. Learn more about updates to assessments.

Note

If you use Compliance Manager in a language other than English, you’ll notice that some text appears in English when you export a template to Excel. The titles of actions (both your improvement actions and, where applicable, Microsoft actions) must be in English to be recognized by controls. If you make changes to an action title, be sure to write it in English so that the file imports correctly.

Export a template

You can export an Excel file that contains all of a template’s data. You’ll need to export a template in order to modify it, since this will be the Excel file you edit and upload in the modification process. You can also export a template for reference if you want to use data from it while constructing a new custom template.

To export your template, go to your template details page and select the Export to Excel button.

Note that when exporting a template you extended from a Compliance Manager template, the exported file will only contain the attributes you added to the template. The exported file won’t include the original template data provided by Microsoft. To get such a report, see the instructions for exporting an assessment report.