Vendor security and risk assessments are a critical part of your overall security strategy—which means they are integral to the overall success of your business.
But it’s not always easy being so important.
No job is perfect, but the essential nature of vendor risk management (VRM) can add an extra smidge of angst to those everyday pet peeves. After all, those “pet peeves” are impeding better outcomes that can affect your entire organization.
Luckily, processes and technology related to vendor and third-party risk are evolving rapidly. Artificial intelligence, especially, holds tons of potential to ease some of the biggest VRM headaches. In this short article, we’ll take a look at two ways AI is already transforming VRM for the better.
Sound Familiar? Common VRM Challenges in AI’s Crosshairs
Before we dive into how you can put AI to work in your third-party risk management practice, let’s first take a quick look at the challenges AI is most suited to solving (sorry, there’s nothing AI can do about the annoying guy in the office next to yours):
Delayed responses to security questionnaire requests
As Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part (well, he said the “wa-ai-ting” is the hardest part, but still). Whether you are doing an annual reassessment of an existing vendor or looking to add a new vendor, risk assessors can face long delays in receiving a response—if they receive one at all.
Incomplete or insufficient information
When they do get an answer, there are often important details missing or gaps in documentation that prevent you from doing the kind of timely, thorough assessment you need to. At best, this results in several rounds of back-and-forth to get the complete answers you’re looking for—that’s more waiting and more hours spent. At worst, the vendor fails to respond to your follow up, and you’re stuck with what you’ve got.
Compromises on the rigor of your assessment
There are all kinds of variables to consider when deciding when and how to perform a vendor risk assessment: the kinds of data the vendor will access, how critical they are to your business, their security track record, and regulatory compliance, to name just a few. These factors can change rapidly, making it necessary to calibrate the kinds of assessment you perform.
When you can’t reliably collect the information you need, it might lead to compromises on the kinds of assessments you perform. You may be able to hold the line on your highest-risk vendors, but you may not be able to apply those same rigorous standards to other vendor types.
Managing and updating a library of standard frameworks and custom questionnaires
It makes tons of sense to rely on industry-standard questionnaires and frameworks to assess your vendors whenever possible. But many companies supplement standards with customized questionnaires they manage themselves.
Maintaining up-to-date questionnaires can be time-consuming, and the customization can lead to lower, less complete response rates from vendors. And even standard frameworks are subject to change—and without some kind of automation, vendors must still fill them out for every assessment (even if their information hasn’t changed).
How AI Can Help with These VRM Vagaries
New capabilities possible through artificial intelligence can be an important complement to great risk-management processes and relieve some of the most common headaches you and your risk team are facing. Here’s two AI-powered game changers for your assessment process.
1. Smart Response
Smart Response sources information from existing security documentation you’ve added to your document repository. Its AI engine then provides contextual answers to questionnaires.
How it works:
- Upload the security documentation you receive from vendors into your document repository.
- Upload your own questionnaires into Smart Response.
- Questionnaire answers will be populated within minutes. The AI in Smart Response will find an answer to your questions, give you a confidence score so you can understand the degree of certainty, and provide clear rationales for responses and citations from the documents themselves.
- The AI in Smart Response understands question intent. This means that it can provide nuanced, supported answers to even your customized questionnaires—so you can get all the answers you need.
- Smart Response won’t guess at questions it doesn’t know the answer to, but it will provide clear reasons why. This makes it even simpler to find those answers yourself. Plus, you always maintain control by approving answers.
How it solves your VRM problems:
- Get proactive with new vendors. Smart Response allows you to perform preliminary assessments using publicly available security documents. You can do this early in the procurement process to better understand which vendors best fit your risk profile. It also reduces the volume of questions you’ll have to send those vendors during the formal assessment, increasing your odds of getting responses.
- Increase the rate and quality of responses to your requests. It’s much easier for a vendor to send over documentation than it is for them to manually respond to a detailed, customized questionnaire. By self-serving answers to your own questionnaires in minutes, you increase the likelihood of getting a response and reduce the back-and-forth as you hunt for more detail.
- Lower the burden on your vendors (which is good for you, too). Smart Response helps you to maintain great vendor engagement, because it makes it simpler for vendors to participate in the assessment process. If Smart Response can provide you detailed answers to 75% of your custom questions, the request you send to vendors is 75% easier to respond to. They will be much more likely to quickly get you the handful of remaining answers you need.
- Conduct more in-depth assessments without adding time or resources. For all the reasons we’ve already discussed, Smart Response makes it easier and faster to conduct thorough vendor risk assessments. That means you can look at a wider variety of vendors’ security posture in greater detail.
This may not be necessary for every vendor, but it can be especially helpful if circumstances change. For example, if you plan on increasing your services with a vendor and they will have greater data or systems access, you can quickly reassess them. If your regulatory requirements change suddenly (and it wouldn’t be the first time!), you can much more easily remain compliant.
2. SOC 2 Summarization
A SOC 2 report is one of the most thorough pieces of security documentation you can have to assess a vendor. It can also run to more than a hundred pages. Until now, digesting a SOC 2 report required hunting and pecking your way through all those pages for the handful of meaningful data points you actually need. SOC 2 Summarization uses AI to distill those pages into a 5-page report catered to your specific needs.
How it works:
- It’s all in the name. When you receive a SOC 2 report from a vendor, AI will create a condensed summary that’s aligned with your specific needs, is easy to digest, and easy to share with other stakeholders.
- Every report includes the vendor name, the name of the specific solution, the dates the report is valid for, and—because we know that the person doing the assessment isn’t always the end user of the tool—we also include a description of how the tool is used and how it’s likely to interact with your environment.
- Organize the document summary by both control type and exceptions, so you can focus on those elements that require real attention.
How it solves your VRM problems:
- Cut to the chase. Not every vendor control or security standard is relevant to your security assessment. Because SOC 2 Summarization allows you to organize by controls and exceptions, you don’t have to weed through hundreds of pages to find the stuff that matters. You can get right to the stuff that needs your attention.
- Get answers you really need faster. Let your vendors know that if they don’t have the time to respond to your questionnaire themselves, they can simply send you their SOC 2. You’re likely to see increased response rates, and you don’t have to dumb down your assessments or wait around to get them.
- Shrink your custom questionnaires. The SOC 2 summary might not give you every single answer your business needs to conduct a thorough assessment. There’s likely to be a handful of customized questions that still require vendor responses. But you can greatly reduce the number of questions—and reduce the dread your vendor feels at having to respond to a longer questionnaire.
- Work hand-in-hand with Smart Response. If you want to get more bang for your AI buck, you can combine the power of SOC 2 Summarization with Smart Response. You can use the SOC 2 report (or the SOC 2 summary you create) with Smart Response to answer whatever remaining customized questions you have after summarization. That’s akin to a 100% response rate from vendors on assessment requests, and in a fraction of the time.
Whistic is the One VRM Platform that Delivers Both AI Capabilities
The Whistic Platform is a dual-sided vendor risk management tool that works for both customers assessing their vendors and for vendors themselves. We’re also the only such platform to deliver both Smart Response and SOC 2 Summarization to make the risk assessments painless and fast for both sides.
These AI features reduce the burden on your InfoSec team, help vendors respond to clients and prospects faster so they can close more deals, increase response rates and reduce turnaround time for risk management teams, and synthesize huge amounts of security data into digestible reports to share with stakeholders and drive decision-making.
If you’re looking for quick wins with AI or simply want to make your life easier when it comes to vendor risk assessments, take 30 minutes to speak with our team. We’ll show you exactly how our AI capabilities work for businesses like yours, all in a hassle-free environment. You’ve got nothing to lose but time, so schedule your consultation today!