No company is an island. Organizations are a complex and diverse system of processes and business relationships. Risk and compliance challenges do not stop at traditional organizational boundaries. Organizations struggle to identify, manage, and govern extended business relationships. The challenge is: “Can you attest that risk and compliance are managed across extended business relationships?” An organization can face reputation and economic disaster by establishing or maintaining the wrong business relationships, or by allowing good business relationships to sour because of weak oversight. 

Organizations tend to look at the formation of a business relationship and fail to foresee that issues cascade and cause severe damage to reputation, and exposure to legal and operational risk throughout the ongoing relationship. They make two common mistakes: 

  • Risk is only considered during the on-boarding process: Risks in extended business relationships are often only analyzed during the on-boarding process to validate the organization is doing business with the right companies. This approach fails to recognize that additional risk is incurred over the life of the business relationship. 
  • Partner performance evaluations neglect risk: Metrics and measurements often fail to fully analyze and monitor risk. Often, metrics are focused on vendor delivery of products and services but do not include monitoring risks such as compliance and ethical considerations. 

Organizations need an integrated approach to third-party management that brings together people, process, and technology to deliver not only efficiency and effectiveness but also agility. The building blocks of an effective, efficient, and agile third-party management program are: 

  1. Define Your Program. The first step is to define the third-party management program. While an individual needs to lead the program it also necessitates that different parts of the organization work with this role. Defining your program includes understanding board oversight and reporting for third-party risk and compliance and a cross-functional team to ensure that the operational, reputational, and compliance risks in business relationships are appropriately addressed. This team needs to work with the relationship owners to ensure a collaborative and efficient oversight process is in place. 
  2. Establish Framework. The third-party management framework is used to manage and monitor the ever-changing relationship, risk, and regulatory environments in extended business relationships. The framework starts with developing a list of third-party relationships cross-referenced to risks and regulations affecting those relationships. A framework is an organized set of controls used to measure compliance against multiple risks, regulations, standards, and best practices. 
  3. Onboarding. Evaluation of risk and compliance needs to be integrated with the process of procurement and vendor/supplier/partner relations. A business relationship is to be evaluated against defined criteria to determine if the relationship should be established or avoided. When there is a high degree of inherent risk, but the relationship still is necessary, manage the risk within tolerance level by establishing compensating controls and monitoring requirements. 
  4. Ongoing Monitoring. A variety of environmental and geo-political factors can affect the success or failure of any given business relationship. This includes the potential for natural disasters, disruptions, commodity availability and pricing, industry developments, and geo-political risks. The potential risks relevant to each business partner should be taken into consideration to monitor the health and success of business relationships on an individual and aggregate level. This also involves monitoring relevant legal and regulatory environments in corresponding jurisdictions to identify changes that could impact the business and its extended relationships. 
  5. Resolve Issues. Even the most successful business relationships encounter issues. These may arise from quality, health and safety, regulatory, environmental, business continuity, economic, fraud, or legal and regulatory mishaps. The fallout from incidents is exacerbated when everyone scrambles because nobody developed defined action and resolution plans ahead of time. Management of risk across extended business relationships should account for issues and plan for containment, mitigation, and resolution. 

Manual spreadsheet- and document-centric processes are prone to failure as they bury the organization in mountains of data that is difficult to maintain, aggregate, and report on, consuming valuable resources. The organization ends up spending more time in data management and reconciling as opposed to active risk monitoring of extended business relationships. 

Third-party management is enabled at an enterprise level through implementation of an integrated third-party management platform. This offers the adaptability needed as a result of the dynamic nature and geographic dispersion of the modern enterprise. The right third-party management platform enables the organization to effectively manage risk across extended business relationships and facilitate the ability to document, communicate, report, and monitor the range of assessments, documents, tasks, responsibilities, and action plans. 

This blog article is part of the latest GRC Illustrated Series: Integrated Third-Party Management

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