Whether your organization consists of thousands of employees or just you and your dog, you still have to operate within a larger social context—that includes broad forces such as governmental regulations, corporate structures, and ethical considerations. An important strategy for making sure you’re in alignment with these many expectations is called governance, risk, and compliance (GRC).
It’s worth noting that none of the concepts under the GRC umbrella are new, in and of themselves. The notion that a company should be well run, or ethical, or legally compliant is not particularly innovative. What makes GRC so useful–and such a hot topic!–is that GRC strategy looks at governance, risk, and compliance as an interconnected whole. Implementing a GRC framework at your organization is a lot of work but well worth the effort you’ll expend.
What is a GRC Framework?
A GRC framework is a set of guidelines and practices that help organizations manage and align their activities with various regulations, policies, and objectives. GRC helps ensure that a business functions in a manner that is ethical and transparent, risk aware, and in accordance with the legal requirements of its particular industry.
A “mature” GRC strategy is one that is deeply implemented into every aspect of an organization. But for our purposes, let’s focus on how GRC both impacts and supports the cybersecurity and IT operations of a company.
GRC strategy provides a structured approach to integrate cybersecurity into an organization’s overall governance and risk management practices. It helps organizations establish effective cybersecurity governance, assess and mitigate cybersecurity risks, and ensure compliance with relevant regulations. By incorporating GRC principles into their cybersecurity strategy, organizations can enhance their protection of critical assets.
Let’s look at each of the letters in GRC, with particular focus on how they relate to cybersecurity..
In the cybersecurity context, governance means establishing clear policies, procedures, and guidelines for managing and securing information systems. This means ensuring that cybersecurity is integrated into the organization’s overall governance structure. Effective governance helps set the direction for cybersecurity initiatives and ensures that cybersecurity is taken seriously throughout the organization.
Most significantly, good governance requires disseminating these throughout the organization. Of course your IT department knows about these policies and procedures, but the entire company needs to be aware of them, too. This will help steer the organizational culture toward greater cybersecurity and IT awareness.
Cybersecurity risks are a significant concern for organizations today. GRC frameworks provide a structured approach to identify, assess, and mitigate these risks. This includes evaluating potential vulnerabilities, threats, and impacts on assets, and developing strategies to protect against attack. By integrating risk management practices with a GRC system, organizations can proactively address cybersecurity threats and reduce their overall risk exposure.
Cybersecurity compliance refers to adhering to relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards pertaining to the protection of sensitive data and information systems. GRC helps organizations identify and understand these compliance requirements, ensuring that adequate controls are in place to meet them. This includes data privacy regulations, industry-specific standards (for example, PCI DSS for payment card security or HIPPA for the healthcare industry, and GDPR for data transfer between North America and the EU), as well as any other legal or regulatory obligations. Compliance with cybersecurity requirements is essential to protect sensitive data, maintain customer trust, and avoid legal and financial consequences.
Why does GRC Strategy Matter to Your Business?
I know what you’re thinking: All that GRC stuff sounds nice, but I have bigger fish to fry. I can’t worry about GRC, I have to make payroll!
I hear you. Implementation of GRC frameworks can be a heavy lift, and the smaller an organization is, the worse it can feel. Unfortunately, as cyber risks intensify and regulations multiply, GRC compliance is ceasing to be a “nice to have” and rapidly becoming a “must have.”
Why is GRC so important? First and foremost: Regulatory compliance. This is a critical, and potentially very expensive, factor. The other side of the coin is having the organization be “audit-ready” 24×7, on demand, which saves significant time and money for the company.
Second, in today’s world, the responsibilities of your business do not end at your office door. You depend on multiple vendors and partners, all of them considered 3rd parties; they all increase your risk exposure. You need to know about this exposure and track it. Third-party risk management can be tracked through your GRC system. When was the last time you checked with your mission-critical vendors whether they are compliant and cyber secure?
So let’s move away from a theoretical discussion and try to get a bit more down-to-earth. What does GRC strategy actually look like in the real world, and what can it get you?
Here are some examples of how implementing a GRC framework can benefit your organization.
Establish processes to monitor and ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and industry standards. This involves conducting internal audits, assessments, and evaluations to verify compliance with requirements such as data protection regulations (e.g., GDPR), financial regulations (e.g., SOX), or industry-specific standards (e.g., HIPAA for healthcare). Compliance activities may include documentation reviews, system monitoring, periodic assessments, and remediation of identified gaps or issues.
But it’s not necessarily enough to be compliant–you need to be ready to prove it. 24/7 audit-readiness is the name of the game. A GRC system guarantees you can win.
Risk Assessment and Management
Conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities to their information systems. This involves analyzing the likelihood and potential impact of risks, such as data breaches, unauthorized access, or system failures. Risk mitigation strategies are developed and implemented, which may include implementing security controls, conducting penetration testing, monitoring systems, and creating incident response plans. Tracking third-party risk is another vital aspect of this.
Develop clear and comprehensive policies that define the rules, procedures, and guidelines for governance, risk management, and compliance. These policies cover areas such as information security, data privacy, acceptable use of technology, incident response, and regulatory compliance. Policies are communicated to employees, and regular training and awareness programs are conducted to ensure understanding and adherence.
A GRC system facilitates incident response because the GRC system is the authoritative repository for all your assets. It knows where everything is, who “owns” it, and what it needs in order for the asset to be “alive and well!” GRC, therefore, doesn’t create your incident response plan–it gives your incident response plan a far-greater chance of succeeding.
Your incident response plan defines roles and responsibilities, communication channels, containment measures, evidence preservation, notification procedures, and recovery processes. Regular testing and simulations of incident response plans are conducted to ensure effectiveness and readiness, and it is in your GRC system where you track the plan’s performance, integrate lessons learned, and optimize your resilience for the next time.
Reporting and Documentation
Your GRC system is the authoritative depository for all documentation, including the history and versions of policies and procedures throughout their evolution. It is there that you need to go to manage communications, identify critical resources, access critical documentation for systems recovery, and so on.
Documentation managed by a GRC system includes (at a minimum) records of policies, risk assessments, compliance assessments, incident response plans, communications plans, and any actions taken to address risks or non-compliance. Documentation ensures transparency, accountability, and provides evidence of adherence to governance, risk, and compliance requirements.
Tips for Achieving a Successful GRC Implementation
A proper GRC framework implementation will help any company identify and mitigate risks, monitor and report on compliance, pick the right controls, policies, and frameworks, and build a more resilient organization overall. Experts have noted that GRC frameworks have four main components: strategy, processes, technology, and people.
Strategy and GRC
A GRC implementation starts with goal identification. There are many areas and programs that a GRC system can manage: cybersecurity, privacy, and ESG are obvious choices, but HR, procurement, IT, and legal are also areas that can benefit greatly from a GRC implementation. GRC implementation can get complicated quickly, especially if this is an organization’s first attempt at implementing such a system. For that reason, it is important to start with one area first, then expand.
Processes and GRC
One vital process involved in GRC is the dreaded-but-revered audit. Audits are both painful and essential in equal measure, because they uncover vulnerabilities (be they financial, operational, or technological) and provide an opportunity to fix problems before an even worse problem occurs. A good GRC system, like cyberCTRL, will enable your company to be audit-ready on demand 24×7. This alone can save the company significant time and money and is frequently justification enough for implementing the GRC system.
Technology and GRC
Picking the right software is an essential component of a successful GRC strategy. There are many GRC tools that can help you establish and monitor your program, manage compliance, respond automatically to threats, and ensure you are meeting your goals, but how do you know which one is the right one for your company? You’ll need to do your homework (due diligence) in order to pick the right GRC system for your specific needs.
Start by laying out your goals, your company culture, your specific industry needs. Look for systems that have a presence in your industry and start your evaluation there. Be careful and diligent. Make sure that the system being demonstrated for your use covers your requirements now, not some time down the line. There are vendors with immature systems trying to grab market share, and you don’t want to be their guinea pig. Look for companies that have been around for a while and have a good track record. Check references. Perform exhaustive demos and ask for specific use cases.
People and GRC
Make sure that key stakeholders are involved from the beginning of the process. Senior executives have a vital role to play in establishing priorities and “risk appetites”—it is essential that they all are on board with the GRC strategy. But don’t forget the importance of your IT, cyber, legal, human resources, and finance departments as well. Those folks are your “boots on the ground”—the ones who’ll make sure that your GRC priorities are front-of-mind at all times.
Getting Help with Your GRC Implementation
GRC implementation is an ongoing process that requires regular evaluation, monitoring, and continuous improvement to effectively manage governance, risk, and compliance aspects within an organization. Depending on the size and complexity of your business, this may not be an adventure you want to go on alone. Also, remember that a GRC system is “alive” not static. It’s not a “once and done” type of exercise. It’s a lifestyle.
Here at TMG, we’ve been living the cybersecure lifestyle for 30+ years and would love to share our experience and know-how with you. Book a call with our team today to learn more.