Modern Organization: Interconnected Maze of Relationships

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

Replace the word ‘man’ with ‘organization’ and the seventeenth-century English poet John Donne is describing the post-modern twenty-first century organization. In other words, “No organization is an island unto itself, every organization is a piece of the broader whole.”

Traditional brick and mortar business is a thing of the past: physical buildings and conventional employees no longer define organizations. The modern organization is an interconnected maze of relationships and interactions that span traditional business boundaries. Layers of relationships go beyond traditional employees to include suppliers, vendors, outsourcers, service providers, contractors, subcontractors, consultants, temporary workers, agents, brokers, intermediaries, and more. Complexity grows as these interconnected relationships, processes, and systems nest themselves in intricacy, such as deep supply chains. Today, business is interconnected in a flat world in which over half of the organization’s ‘insiders’ are no longer traditional employees but third parties.

In this context, organizations struggle to identify and govern their third party relationships with a growing awareness that they stand in the shoes of their third parties. Risk and compliance challenges do not stop at traditional organizational boundaries. 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 governance of the relationship. Third party problems are the organizations problems that directly impact the brand and reputation while increasing exposure to risk and compliance matters. 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 party partners behave appropriately.

Inevitable Failure of Silos of Third Party Governance

Third party management is like the hydra in mythology — organizations combat each head, only to find more heads springing up to threaten them. Departments are constantly reacting to third party risks appearing around them and fail to actively manage and understand the interrelationship of third parties across the organization.

The challenge:“Can you attest to the governance, risk management, and compliance of the organization’s extended business relationships?”

Typical response: Organizations tend to look at the formation of a third party relationship and fail to foresee issues that cascade and cause damage to reputation, and exposure to legal and operational risk throughout the ongoing relationship.

The fragmented governance of third party relationships through disconnected silos leads the organization to inevitable failure. Reactive, document-centric and manual processes fail to actively manage risk and compliance in the context of the third party relationship and broader organization strategy and performance.  Silos leave the organization blind to intricate relationships of risk and compliance exposure that fail to get aggregated and evaluated in context of the overall relationship and the organization’s goals, objectives, and performance.

Failure in third party governance comes about 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. The organization is encumbered with inadequate resources to monitor risk and regulations impacting third party relationships; different parts of the organization end up finger pointing thinking others are doing this. Or the opposite happens, different parts of the organization react to the same development without collaborating which increases redundancy and inefficiency.
  • Interconnected third party risks that are not connected. The organization’s risk environment across third party relationships is becoming increasingly interconnected. An exposure in one area may seem minor but when factored into other exposures in the same relationship can become significant. The organization lacks a complete record or understanding of the scope of third parties that are material to the organization.
  • Silos of third party oversight.Allowing different parts of the organizations to go about third party governance in different ways without any coordination, collaboration, and architecture. This is exacerbated when the organization fails to define responsibilities for third party oversight. This leads to the unfortunate situation of the organization having no end to end visibility of third party relationships.
  • Document and email centric approaches.When organizations govern third party relationships in a maze of documents, spreadsheets, emails, and file shares it is easy for things to get overlooked and bury silos of third party management in mountains of data that is difficult to maintain, aggregate, and report on. There is no single source of truth on the relationship and becomes difficult to impossible to get a comprehensive, accurate, and current analysis of a third party. To accomplish this requires a tremendous amount of staff time and resources to consolidate, analyze, and report on third party information. When things go wrong document trails 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 onboarding third parties, monitoring risk and compliance, and managing the relationships, the organization never sees the big picture. This leads to a significant amount of redundancy and inefficiency, impacts effectiveness, while encumbering the organization when it needs to be agile.
  • Processes focused on onboarding only.Risk and compliance issues are often only analyzed during the on-boarding process to validate the organization is doing business with the right companies through an initial due diligence process. This approach fails to recognize that additional risk and compliance exposure is incurred over the life of the third party relationship.
  • Inadequate processes to manage change.Governing third party relationships is cumbersome in the context of constantly changing regulations, relationships, employees, processes, suppliers, strategy, and more. Organizations are in a constant state of flux. 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 party relationships is changing introducing further risk exposure.
  • Third party performance evaluations that neglect risk and compliance.Metrics and measurements of third parties often fail to fully analyze and monitor risk and compliance exposures. Often, metrics are focused on third party delivery of products and services but do not include monitoring risks such as compliance and ethical considerations.

The physicist, Fritjof Capra, made an insightful observation on living organisms and ecosystems that also rings true when applied to third party management:

“The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent.”[2]

Capra’s point is that biological ecosystems are complex and interconnected and require a holistic understanding of the intricacy in interrelationship as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. Change in one segment of an ecosystem has cascading effects and impacts to the entire ecosystem. This is true in third party management. What further complicates this is the exponential effect of third party risk on the organization. Business operates in a world of chaos. Applying chaos theory to business is like the ‘butterfly effect’ in which the simple flutter of a butterfly’s wings creates tiny changes in the atmosphere that could ultimately impact the development and path of a hurricane. A small event cascades, develops, and influences what ends up being a significant issue. Dissociated data, systems, and processes leaves the organization with fragments of truth that fail to see the big picture of third party performance, risk, and compliance across the enterprise and how it supports the organization’s strategy and objectives. The organization needs to have holistic visibility and situational awareness into third party relationships across the enterprise. Complexity of business and intricacy and interconnectedness of third party data requires that the organization implement a third party management strategy.

Managing third party activities in disconnected silos leads the organization to inevitable failure. 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 risk and compliance as an integrated part of business. 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, and compliance and understand its impact on the organization.

The bottom line: A haphazard department and document centric approach for 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. Third party management is “a capability that enables an organization to reliably achieve objectives, while addressing uncertainty, and act with integrityin and across its 3rdparty relationships.[3]Organizations need to approach third party management with an integrated strategy, process, and architecture to manage the ecosystem of third party relationships with real-time information about third party performance, risk, and compliance and how it impacts the organization.

GRC 20/20 Events & Resources for Third Party Management Include . . .

Third Party Management Workshop

GRC 20/20 will be leading a complimentary interactive workshop to facilitate discussion and learning between organizations on Third Party Management on the following dates and locations:

Strategy Perspective on Third Party Management

Research Briefings on Third Party Management

Case Studies on Organizations Doing Third Party Management

Solution Perspectives on Third Party Management Solutions

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

[2]Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems (New York: Anchor Books, 1996), 3.

[3]GRC 20/20’s adaption of the OCEG definition of GRC found in the OCEG GRC Capability Model applied to third party management.

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