Over the past decade, the role of third-party relationships has changed significantly. While third parties, whether suppliers, vendors or service providers, used to be characterised as barely relevant, they are now considered business partners — and their risks are now intricately intertwined with the overall risks of the business.
In an increasingly interconnected world, businesses are becoming more reliant on third-party relationships to drive growth, streamline operations, reduce costs and access specialised expertise to gain a competitive advantage. However, this growing dependence on external partners brings with it a new set of challenges and risks that can significantly impact a company’s reputation, financial stability and overall success.
This is where the critical discipline of third-party risk management comes into play, enabling businesses to safeguard their interests, protect their stakeholders and maintain the trust of their customers and investors.
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To discuss some of the challenges faced by organisations in achieving effective third-party risk management, as well as strategies for integrated third-party management, TechCentral hosted a round-table conversation sponsored by OneTrust with some of the country’s leading executives across a range of industries at the One&Only Hotel in Cape Town.
Attendees delved into the changing nature and complexity of third-party risks and how traditional risk management approaches are becoming inadequate, as well as the critical role of technology in third-party risk management.
They all agreed that in today’s increasingly complex and evolving threat landscape, the dynamic nature of risks demands a more proactive and integrated approach to third-party risk management. Cyber threats evolve rapidly, and the regulatory landscape continues to change, leaving organisations exposed to vulnerabilities.
As a result, while third-party risk management has traditionally been the responsibility of specialised teams such as IT security, procurement and compliance, there was consensus that, in the modern landscape, it must evolve to be the collective responsibility of the entire leadership team organisation to ensure a more comprehensive and integrated approach to managing risks across the business.
The challenge of modern third-party risk management
Attendees agreed that third-party risk management (TPRM) is a multifaceted and resource-intensive task. It involves the evaluation of various factors, including financial stability, cybersecurity practices, compliance history and more. These assessments often require a significant amount of manual effort, making it challenging to manage numerous third-party relationships consistently. Here are some key challenges encountered by organisations shared by attendees in the discussion:
- Complex vendor ecosystems: Many organisations have sprawling and intricate vendor ecosystems with a multitude of suppliers, service providers and subcontractors. Managing the security and compliance of each entity can be overwhelming, making it a challenge to prioritise risks effectively.
- Evolving cybersecurity threats: The ever-evolving threat landscape poses a significant challenge in modern TPRM. Cyberattacks continue to grow in sophistication, and threat actors target not only organisations directly but also their third-party partners. This dynamic environment necessitates constant vigilance and adaptation to emerging threats.
- Data privacy and regulatory compliance: Privacy regulations like POPIA and GDPR and various industry-specific mandates impose stringent requirements on businesses. Ensuring that third parties comply with these regulations is a complex task; and non-compliance can lead to significant legal and financial consequences.
- Supply chain vulnerabilities: Third-party risks are not limited to data breaches; they can also include supply chain attacks and operational disruptions. Identifying and mitigating these risks are paramount.
- Lack of visibility: Gaining full visibility into the security and compliance practices of third parties can be elusive. Some third parties may not provide transparent insights into their security measures, creating uncertainty and risk.
- Resource constraints: Many organisations face resource limitations in terms of personnel and technology. TPRM teams are often required to manage complex third-party relationships with limited resources, making thorough risk assessments and ongoing monitoring a challenge.
- Cross-border challenges: Third-party relationships often extend across international borders, adding another layer of complexity. Navigating global data protection laws, geopolitical tensions, and cross-border regulatory disparities can be challenging.
- Operational resilience: Ensuring business continuity during the transition phases of third-party relationships, especially when critical services are integrated, is a critical challenge. Organisations must mitigate operational disruptions effectively.
- Financial stability: The financial stability of both the acquiring and target companies, as well as key suppliers and vendors, can directly impact third-party risk. Assessing and mitigating risks associated with financial stability is essential in TPRM.
In a world marked by increasing complexity and interconnectivity, organisations must adopt proactive, holistic and integrated strategies, advanced technology and comprehensive compliance measures to address these challenges and ensure the resilience and security of their third-party relationships.
Integrated and holistic third-party risk management
There was consensus amongst attendees that in an increasingly interconnected and digital world, the significance of adopting an integrated and holistic approach to modern third-party management cannot be overstated and encompasses a range of essential components that collectively ensure the effective management of external partnerships.
This approach includes comprehensive risk assessment that evaluates multiple dimensions of risk; vendor onboarding with due diligence, clear contractual agreements that safeguard the organisation’s interests and continuous monitoring using data analytics and automation.
It also needs well-defined incident response plans, vigilant compliance management, collaborative governance and oversight and seamless technology integration. Meticulous documentation and reporting, scalable processes that maintain consistency, vendor education to promote mutual understanding, and alignment with diverse regulatory requirements are also important.
Each of these components harmoniously combines to provide a unified and comprehensive framework for mitigating risks and capitalising on opportunities associated with third parties.
The role of technology
Delegates also discussed the indispensable role of technology in modern TPRM. Data analytics and machine learning enhance risk assessment by processing vast amounts of data, enabling predictive insights and real-time monitoring. Automation and workflow integration streamline vendor assessments, saving time and resources.
Technology also aids in continuous monitoring, alerts and anomaly detection, allowing proactive risk mitigation. As the threat landscape evolves, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence offer even greater potential for strengthening security measures. In essence, technology, including emerging technology, can transform TPRM from a resource-intensive task into an efficient, data-driven, and proactive process.
In a world where external partnerships are integral to business success, effective third-party risk management is indispensable.
By following best practices in due diligence, integration planning, contract review and ongoing monitoring, supported by TPRM technology solutions that streamline processes, organisations can navigate the complex landscape of third-party relationships effectively.
TechCentral and OneTrust, thank all of those who participated in the round-table discussion.
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