The Extended Enterprise Demands Attention

The Modern Organization is an Interconnected Mess of Relationships

No man is an island, entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.[1]

Substitute ‘man’ with ‘organization’ and seventeenth-century English poet John Donne could be describing the post-modern twenty-first century organization: “No organization is an island unto itself, every organization is a piece of the broader whole.”

Brick and mortar business is a thing of the past: physical buildings and conventional employees no longer define an organization. The modern organization is an interconnected mess of relationships and interactions that span traditional business boundaries. Over half of the organization’s ‘insiders’ are no longer traditional employees. Insiders now include suppliers, vendors, outsourcers, service providers, contractors, subcontractors, consultants, temporary workers, agents, brokers, dealers, intermediaries, and more. Complexity grows as these interconnected relationships, processes, and systems nest themselves in layers of subcontracting and suppliers.

In this context, organizations now struggle to adequately govern third party business relationships. Third party problems are the organization’s problems that directly impact brand, reputation, compliance, strategy, and risk to the organization. Risk and compliance challenges do not stop at traditional organizational boundaries as organizations bear the responsibility of the actions or inactions of third party relationships. An organization can face reputational and economic disaster by establishing or maintaining the wrong business relationships, or by allowing good business relationships to sour because of poor governance and management.  When questions of business practice, ethics, safety, quality, human rights, corruption, security, and the environment arise, the organization is held accountable, and it must ensure that third parties behave appropriately.

Inevitable Failure of Silos of Third Party Governance

Governing third party relationships, particularly in context of risk and compliance, is like the hydra in mythology: organizations combat each head, only to find more heads springing up to threaten them. Departments are reacting to third party management in silos and the organization fails to actively implement a coordinated strategy to third party management from an enterprise perspective.

  • The challenge: Can you attest to the governance, risk management, and compliance across the organization’s third party business relationships?
  • Reality: Organizations manage third parties differently across different departments and functions with manual approaches involving thousands of documents, spreadsheets, and emails. Worse, they focus their efforts at the formation of a third party relationship during the on-boarding process and fail to govern risk and compliance throughout the lifecycle of the relationship.

This fragmented approach to third party governance brings the organization to inevitable failure. Reactive, document-centric, and manual processes cost too much and fail to actively govern, manage risk, and assure compliance throughout the lifecycle of the third party relationship. Silos leave the organization blind to the intricate relationships of risk and compliance that do not get aggregated and evaluated in context of the value of relationships and the organization’s goals, objectives, and performance.

Failure in third party management happens when organizations have:

  • Growing risk and regulatory concerns with inadequate resources. Organizations are facing a barrage of growing regulatory requirements and expanding geo-political risks around the world. Many of these target third party relationships specifically, while others still require compliance without specifically addressing the context of third parties. Organizations are, in turn, encumbered with inadequate resources to monitor risk and regulations impacting third party relationships and often react to similar requirements without collaborating with other departments which increases redundancy and inefficiency.
  • Interconnected third party risks that are not visible.  The organization’s risk exposure across third party relationships is growing increasingly interconnected.  An exposure in one area may seem minor but when factored into other exposures in the same relationship (or others) the result can be significant. The organization lacks an integrated and thorough understanding of the interconnectedness of performance, risk management, and compliance of third parties.
  • Silos of third party oversight. Allowing different departments to go about third party management without coordination, collaboration, consistent processes, information, and approach leads to inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and lack of agility. This is exacerbated when organizations fail to define responsibilities for third party oversight and the organization breeds an anarchy approach to third party management leading to the unfortunate situation of the organization having no end-to-end visibility and governance of third party relationships.
  • Document, spreadsheet, and email centric approaches.  When organizations govern third party relationships in a maze of documents, spreadsheets, and emails it is easy for things to get overlooked and buried in mountains of data that is difficult to maintain, aggregate, and report on. There is no single source-of-truth on the relationship and it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to get a comprehensive, accurate, and current-state analysis of a third party. To accomplish this requires a tremendous amount of staff time and resources to consolidate information, analyze, and report on third party information. When things go wrong, audit trails are non-existent or are easily covered up and manipulated as they lack a robust audit trail of who did what, when, how, and why.
  • Scattered and non-integrated technologies. When different parts of the organization use different solutions and processes for on-boarding and managing third parties, monitor third party risk and compliance, and manage relationships; the organization can never see the big picture.  This leads to a significant amount of redundancy and encumbers the organization when it needs to be agile.
  • Due diligence done haphazardly or only during on-boarding. Risk and compliance issues identified through an initial due diligence process are often only analyzed during the on-boarding process to validate third parties. This approach fails to recognize that additional risk and compliance exposure is incurred over the life of the third party relationship and that due diligence needs to be conducted on periodic or continual basis.
  • Inadequate processes to monitor changing dynamics. Organizations are in a constant state of flux. Governing third party relationships is cumbersome in the context of constantly changing regulations, risks, processes, relationships, employees, processes, suppliers, strategy, and more. The organization has to monitor the span of regulatory, geo-political, commodity, economic, and operational risks across the globe in context of its third party relationships. Just as much as the organization itself is changing, each of the organization’s third parties is changing introducing further risk exposure.
  • Third party performance evaluations that neglect risk and compliance. Metrics and measurements of third parties often fail to properly encompass risk and compliance indicators. Often, metrics through service level agreements (SLAs) and established key performance indicators (KPIs) focus on delivery of products and services by the third party but do not include monitoring of risks, particularly compliance and ethical considerations.

When the organization approaches third party management in scattered silos that do not collaborate with each other, there is no possibility to be intelligent about third party performance, risk management, compliance, and impact on the organization. Without a coordinated third party management strategy the organization and its various departments never see the big picture and fail to put third party management in the context of business strategy, objectives, and performance resulting in complexity, redundancy, and failure. The organization is not thinking about how processes can be designed to meet a range of third party needs. An ad hoc approach to third party management results in poor visibility across the organization, because there is no framework or architecture for managing third party risk and compliance as an integrated framework.

The bottom line: A haphazard and Wild West approach to third party management compounds the problem and does not solve it.  It is time for organizations to step back and define a cross-functional and coordinated strategy and team to define and govern third party relationships.  Organizations often need to wipe the slate clean and approach third party management by design with an integrated process, information, and technology architecture that manages the ecosystem of third party relationships with real-time information about performance, risk, and compliance on the organization’s ability to reliably achieve its objectives.

Consider registering for one of these upcoming webinars on Third Party Management that GRC 20/20 is speaking on:

If you are looking for Third Party Management solutions to more effectively manage third party risk and compliance (e.g., vendor, supplier), check out the following Research Briefing (available on demand):

[1] English Poet John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Conditions (1624) found in the section Meditation XVII.

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