Risky business: Steps for building an effective GRC program

Organizations across the board are facing governance, risk, and compliance (GRC)-related challenges. This is due to an over-management of GRC programs and the deployment and misconfigurations of GRC technologies. To ensure organizations are prepared to weather the storm of regulations on the horizon, they need to build a GRC program that is compliant by design. An effective GRC program must be more than focused on security, it also needs to meet privacy, business, and IT requirements.

GRC program

If you’re looking to increase the effectiveness of a GRC program, the following four steps will help you build a blueprint for a successful approach that reduces risk and meets organizational objectives.

Understand the situation

Every GRC program should be tailored to the needs and frameworks of the organization, whether they seek most to comply with industry and privacy regulations or to reduce corporate risk to protect customer data or infrastructure.

The first step is to select an appropriate information security framework to follow, such as NIST CSF, FFIEC CAT, ISO 27001, PCI DSS, HITRUST, and others. This framework is then used to define the structure of policies and procedures that help maintain appropriate information security controls and match the organizations objectives.

The framework then becomes the blueprint for building a GRC program to manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities. It also helps the organization allocate resources efficiently and protect valuable assets, while defining and prioritizing tasks that improve security posture over time.

Focus on the risk

Risk is at the center of GRC. An effective GRC program starts with defining the risk appetite, which identifies the most impactful risks an organization faces and develops ways to reduce that risk to a acceptable level. Organizations invest their resources on the risks that pose the largest operational threat, so they must understand what those risks are to protect themselves. I recommend that organizations take a proactive risk-based decision approach and stop managing security reactively.

The second step is to create a security roadmap that outlines what security programs the organization needs to implement, while also being closely aligned with its business objectives. This roadmap includes existing security programs, as well as noting where those programs need to advance. It should also have the foresight and agility to include technologies that may have not yet been discovered for future use and improvement.

Integrate across departments

A sustainable and effective GRC strategy needs to integrate across the business and align with corporate culture, goals, and processes. Complying with privacy and data regulations is no longer just a checkbox, organizations need to have a GRC program as an umbrella strategy to follow and use to sustain practices over time.

However, successfully creating and managing this program is not solely the role of the CISO and security team, it takes a cross-functional approach from IT to legal and communications, and that rises to board level for input and reporting. Organizations should also find approaches to efficiently collaborate between departments, while also potentially harnessing tools to minimize manual GRC processes and make risk management, audits, and board presentations easier.

Build for the long-haul

As noted, the purpose of a GRC program is to manage enterprise risk and compliance while helping the business achieve its goals. Too much focus on the first at the expense of the second creates a program that is doomed to failure. GRC programs need to be designed to be usable, sustainable, and scalable.

However, being prepared for the unexpected through a GRC program can reduce the impact of business disruptions caused by cyber-attacks, through integrating business continuity, cybersecurity, and organization resilience. Achieving cyber resilience enables an organization to continue business operations as usual with minimal interruption, even during a seemingly severe attack.

A cyber-resilient business that understands its assets and can quickly respond to threats, minimize the damage, and continue to operate under attack, is a business that can grow with confidence, protect its reputation, and strengthen its customer trust. This is the way of a GRC program that is built to last.

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