Building a strong governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) program for your organization is akin to laying a solid foundation before building a skyscraper: the success, or failure, of your company may depend on it. 

Still, with an array of technical options and a seemingly infinite number of best practices available, not all methods for building a GRC program will lead to the same results. 

Last year we published the Risk Insider’s Guide to Buying GRC and Risk Management Technology, highlighting the key considerations for selecting a GRC solution. In this blog we’ll delve into the impact GRC tools have on an organization’s ability to mature its GRC function and achieve security success.

The Stages of Cyber Maturity

Before we explore the nuances of GRC programs, let’s first understand the stages of cyber maturity. A mature GRC program doesn’t just happen overnight; it evolves through several well-defined stages.

  1. Ad hoc. At this stage, organizations react to risk incidents and compliance requirements without a cohesive strategy.
  2. Defined. Organizations begin to establish policies, processes, and controls to manage risks and achieve compliance.
  3. Managed. A managed program includes ongoing monitoring, measurement, and reporting to assure compliance and reduce risks proactively.
  4. Optimized. Organizations at this stage continuously improve their GRC processes, leveraging data and automation for efficiency.

The Pitfall of Immature Tools

So where do GRC tools fit into this maturity model? First, consider everyone’s favorite GRC tool — the spreadsheet. 

Most GRC teams begin with a set of spreadsheets to track controls, risks, threats, incidents, and so forth. Spreadsheets are an inexpensive way to begin your GRC journey, but with limited automation and configuration abilities they can quickly become unmanageable.. As organizations move from the ad hoc stage to the defined stage, many begin to look beyond spreadsheets for a more robust, SaaS-based GRC solution. 

Some tools in the market, which we’ll refer to as cloud compliance tools (such as Vanta, Drata, and Hyperproof), focus primarily on gathering evidence from your other cloud applications. While they excel in assuring the security of your cloud resources, they fall short when it comes to comprehensive GRC needs. Here’s why:

Fast track to certifications. Cloud compliance tools are great for rapidly obtaining certifications, such as SOC2 or ISO-27001. This makes sense for startups or small companies looking for a certification to gain customers. You can see this reflected in their advertising, which targets small companies looking to “fast track” their way to a SOC2. 

Obtaining a certification is not, however, the same as implementing strong security controls and risk-reducing mechanisms. Cloud compliance tools often have limited or non-existent internal GRC expertise to support their customers through growth stages. As such, more often than not, companies that deploy cloud compliance tools outgrow them within a few years when the growing company necessitates more mature processes. 

Limited focus. Cloud compliance tools offer efficient ways of collecting evidence that proves security mechanisms are working effectively within your cloud environment. That’s good to know, but these tools don’t provide a holistic view of your organization’s risk or compliance posture; you’re limited to the integrations they have. Nor are you able to see the impact of poor security on your organization’s ability to meet its goals and remain secure. So what’s the point of using such tools, then? 

Lack of separation of duties. Cloud compliance tools allow users to perform security operations functions, such as user onboarding and defining access, in addition to compliance activities, such as auditing onboarding activities and permission levels. While this might seem like an efficiency gain, in reality, this blurs the line between security operations and compliance management, potentially leading to conflicts of interest. The person responsible for conducting security operations activities should never be the same person auditing them. 

Beware of the Behemoth

In contrast to the immature cloud compliance tools, several larger solutions boast infinite customization and scalability. These tools, which we’ll refer to as black box solutions, (such as AuditBoard and LogicGate) certainly offer a range of capabilities. But they also come with their own set of limitations and potential pitfalls that organizations should consider. 

Complexity and unmanageability. Black box tools generally have complex interfaces and require extensive training for users to navigate. The abundance of features and functionalities can overwhelm users, making adoption challenging. The steep learning curve often delays the return on investment. In some cases, it leads to the replacement of the tool within a few years.

Modularization and increased costs. Black box tools are often modularized, meaning you need to purchase specific modules for different functions. The problem with this is that GRC is not modularized. If you are assessing controls (in module A), but can’t see their impact on risk (because you didn’t pay for module B), you’re missing a large piece of the picture. This also means that to scale and grow, you’re constantly purchasing more modules, making it challenging to budget for the future. 

Support and services challenges. Considering the size and complexity of black box tools, the responsiveness of support teams and ticket backlogs can cause delays in innovation, bug fixes, and end-user success. Further, larger tools often lack personal connections with their customers and outsource work to service providers. This added cost often further impedes adoption and success. 

RiskInsider Tip: Respond, Don’t React

One key aspect of GRC maturity is the concept of “Respond, Don’t React.” Reacting to compliance issues is often fear-driven and can lead to knee-jerk responses. Responding, on the other hand, involves logically assessing information and determining the best course of action. A robust GRC tool facilitates this by providing data-driven insights and actionable steps.

Continuous Monitoring: Your Pathway to Success

Selecting the right GRC tool is not merely a checkbox in your GRC strategy; it’s the foundation upon which your GRC and security success are built. Be sure to consider: 

  • Your goals and objectives. Are you looking to just get a SOC 2 report, or do you want a scalable and mature GRC program?
  • Continuous evidence collection vs. continuous compliance. These are not the same!
  • The ability to add, edit, and cross-connect regulatory frameworks. Don’t fall into the “pay-per-framework” trap!
  • The balance between customization and support. You don’t want to take this journey alone!

Moving beyond continuous evidence-gathering or pay-per-customization tools enables organizations to leverage insight, intelligence, and automation to achieve always-on risk visibility. As you embark on your GRC journey in the New Year, remember that a well-chosen tool is your steadfast companion in achieving compliance, mitigating risks, and driving maturity. RiskOptics is committed to your long-term success in achieving and sustaining GRC maturity. To see how we can help you reach the next level, schedule a demo today at .