What are GRC tools?

GRC tools are purpose-built to provide a unified approach to governance, risk, and compliance (GRC). Combined, GRC tools create a framework and full suite of management capabilities. Organizations can develop, implement, and maintain effective processes and controls to ensure that requirements are consistently met and protections are always in place. 

An alternative to siloed applications, GRC tools are gathered into a platform environment to allow administrators to give all constituents access to the functionality they need. Focused on management and mitigation, GRC tools identify links in business processes, enforce internal controls, streamline operations, and secure sensitive data. 

Below is a summary of GRC tools’ role in each of the three pillars. 

Governance   Risk   Compliance  
Composed of all the business processes and policies that are developed, implemented, and maintained to provide strategic direction as well as guidelines for day-to-day operations.   Includes all activity related to monitoring, assessing, managing, and mitigating vulnerabilities to ensure that operations are not interrupted, and sensitive information is protected.Tracks compliance rules, keeps impacted teams up to date about changes, and sends alerts when systems, processes, or people put the organization at risk of non-compliance violations.

GRC platform criteria

The minimum criteria to consider when evaluating a GRC platform include: 

  • How the GRC tools catalog, assess, and mitigate risks 
  • How they ensure compliance with company policies and regulations 
  • How they support the planning and implementation of audit programs and tasks 
  • How training and ongoing education for compliance purposes are handled 
  • The extent to which the GRC tools can support multiple risk management methodologies 
  • Capabilities offered to support business continuity management programs 
  • Available tools to let employees and third parties know about risks 
  • Which tools are offered to perform third-party risk assessments and due diligence 

When reviewing options for GRC tools, the details about the following capabilities should be evaluated. 

Automated incident management 
GRC tools should automate the incident response process, creating and applying rules that direct incidents to the proper channels and trigger remediation tactics to address issues. These tools should also make it easy to track response progress from a central dashboard and create an audit trail for analysis and compliance reporting. 

Customer support 
The efficacy of GRC tools depends largely on customer support during and after implementation. Important questions to ask when evaluating customer support are: 

  • What support is available if something breaks or is not working? 
  • What is the triage process for issues that go to support? 
  • Is there a dedicated support team? 
  • What is the availability of the support team?  
  • What service level agreements (SLAs) are available for support? 

Deployment options 
While most organizations choose cloud-based GRC tools, it is important to confirm that on-premises options are available if that is a requirement. In addition, take care to understand how software gets updates and security patches are provided for on-premises deployments. 

Document management 
GRC tools need to provide strong document management to facilitate the organization and management of large amounts of documentation, which includes everything from policies, standards, and procedures to organizational controls, tests conducted to verify the efficacy of these controls, and custom attributes.   

Ease of use 
The best GRC tool will be easy to learn with minimal training for end users. Areas to pay particular attention to are the accessibility of functions, how tools work together, and the platform’s intuitiveness. 

Mobile support 
A GRC platform must be accessible on all mobile devices. 

Policy and procedure management 
GRC tools should provide a standardized management system to create and enforce policies, assess performance, and manage exceptions and issues—across the enterprise and its connected third parties. All policies and procedures should be readily accessible to all constituents to ensure transparency and help them adhere to defined standards. 

Tools should be evaluated in terms of how they can address modern needs and their capacity to meet expanded requirements and teams.   

A GRC platform must include critical security features, such as encryption and user access management. Tools should also be available to identify and stop vulnerabilities and threats. 

Service level agreement (SLA) management 
GRC tools should provide functionality that makes it easy to manage SLA metrics and monitor minimum thresholds from one central location. They should also include reporting capabilities to provide management with updates on the status and flag any issues.  

All SLAs should be linked to vendors and contracts. Automated alerts should be sent if risk indicators or performance lags are detected.   

Vendor oversight 
GRC tools should help organizations assess vendors’ capacity to protect sensitive information. 

A good workflow engine is a must-have to ensure that work is distributed and monitored optimally. GRC workflows should align with those of organizations, as workflow disruptions impact productivity and hinder adoption.   

Key features for GRC tools

The best GRC tools include the following 25 features and capabilities. 

  1. Ability for employees to access libraries, upload compliance evidence, and file and archive documents to avoid any compliance mistakes
  2. Analytics
  3. Asset management
  4. Audit management
  5. Auditing tools
  6. Compliance database
  7. Content and document management
  8. Dashboard customization
  9. Document management
  10. Employee security awareness training and assessment
  11. Incident management and breach response
  12. Integration automation
  13. Internal and external assessments
  14. Out-of-the-box and custom reports
  15. Policy management
  16. Policy mapping
  17. Preconfigured and custom integration (e.g., multi-factor authentication or MFA, cloud storage for backups)
  18. Risk analysis
  19. Risk and control management
  20. Risk data management
  21. Risk scoring
  22. Third-party risk management
  23. Ticket and task management
  24. Tracking for audits, tasks, and validation activities
  25. Workflow management

Why use GRC platforms?

GRC tools are used to prevent and address vulnerabilities that can negatively impact systems, resources, and stakeholders. In addition, organizations use them to implement and manage short-term and long-term policies and procedures, which would be almost impossible without these solutions.  

Finally, GRC tools are also used to maintain business continuity in the face of an exponential growth of third-party relationships that have expanded attack surfaces for all organizations.   

Who uses GRC tools?

Organizations use GRC tools to support the requisite cross-functional collaboration across different departments that enables them to meet requirements. GRC tools are of particular help in industries with strict regulations, including:

Users of GRC tools span organizations and include:

  • Senior executives to assess risks when making decisions 
  • Legal teams to help businesses avoid troubles that, in extreme cases, can result in jail time for executives 
  • Finance managers to support and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements 
  • Human resources executives to protect sensitive information 
  • IT departments to protect data from cyber threats 

Benefits of GRC tools

  • Gain an enterprise-wide view of assets and security challenges
  •  Break down silos in processes and data to better comply with regulations by monitoring, assessing, and predicting risk 
  • Streamline business processes with automation 
  • Better meet compliance requirements 
  • Centralize management of GRC policies, controls, and results 
  • Synchronize operational strategy  
  • Enhance data quality and accessibility 

Five challenges of GRC platforms

  1. Despite the automation capabilities provided by GRC tools, many organizations still use manual processes, which impede the efficacy of these solutions. 
  2. Information sharing plays a critical role in the efficacy of GRC tools. However, data challenges persist, including:
    • Different data formats
    • Different data standards 
    • Disparate data sources   
    • Incomplete data
    • Sensitive data  
    • Unprocessed data  
  3. Lack of alignment between organizations’ cultures and the erroneously perceived demands of GRC platforms can slow adoption.  
  4. GRC platforms are often implanted without a comprehensive GRC framework. 
  5. Some GRC tools are not up-to-date about evolving demands from governments and regulatory organizations. 

Selecting the best GRC tools

Regardless of an organization’s industry or size, managing governance, risk, and compliance is a formidable task. Time should be taken to assess options and determine the best choice for the organization. Outlined below are a number of criteria to consider when evaluating GRC tools. 

GRC tools assessment criteria at a glance

Important features and functions to consider when selecting GRC tools, with attention paid to the depth and breadth of these capabilities, are:  

  1. Advanced analysis capabilities, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), and predictive analytics
  2.  Audit management 
  3. Capabilities to meet different requirements across industries, domains, and risk management use cases  
  4. Compliance database 
  5. Content delivery and mapping 
  6. Deployment options (e.g., on-premises, cloud, hybrid) 
  7. Integrations with internal systems and external technologies  
  8. Interoperability 
  9. IT and enterprise risk management 
  10. Mobile support 
  11. Policy management, communication, and collaboration 
  12. Reporting and visualization 
  13. Reporting on the impact of risks on strategic objectives, performance goals, and business resilience 
  14. Risk and compliance assessment, management, mitigation, and remediation 
  15. Risk correlation and impact analysis 
  16. Service level agreements (SLAs) 
  17. Supporting documentation 
  18. Third-party risk management 
  19. User experience  
  20. Workflow capabilities and flexibility 

The professional services capabilities of the GRC tools provider should be assessed and evaluated based on the amount and types of support that will be required. These can include: 

  • Asset criticality analysis 
  • Audit preparation  
  • Audit readiness assessment 
  • Business continuity plan development 
  • Change management 
  • Cybersecurity evaluation 
  • Gap analysis 
  • Governance and compliance best practice guidance 
  • Incident response plan development 
  • Onboarding / offboarding plans and management 
  • Planning and implementation services 
  • Policy and procedure development 
  • Security awareness training programs 
  • Technical, training, and professional support resources for implementation and post-launch 
  • Third-party risk management programs 

Other areas to review when selecting GRC tools are providers’ strategy, market presence, and administrative and financial considerations. Criteria for evaluating these areas are: 

  • Approach to onboarding and implementation 
  • Costs for licenses, implementation, training, and maintenance 
  • Customer engagement and community 
  • Customer retention 
  • Global presence 
  • Implementation approach 
  • Local language capabilities  
  • Market strategy and innovation 
  • Number of customers 
  • Partner ecosystem 
  • Partnership strategy 
  • Product roadmap   
  • Supporting products and services 
  • Vision 
  • Warranties 

GRC tools assessment criteria details 

Cloud monitoring capabilities 
GRC tools must take into account how much of the enterprise’s operations occur in cloud environments and extend their functionality (e.g., identity management, logging, monitoring, networking, access management) to reach these resources. This requires the ability to handle monitoring on cloud platforms. 

Product strategy and vision 
GRC requirements are constantly changing and, in many cases, expanding. GRC tools need a strategic roadmap and strong research and development (R&D) teams behind them to ensure they can adapt quickly. The strength of R&D teams should be measured in terms of skills, headcount, and funding.   

Risk management capabilities 
Risk management should have robust capabilities in these categories:  

  • Risk identification
  • Risk assessment 
  • Risk mitigation 
  • Risk remediation

Task management  
In addition to having an easy-to-use system to store, manage, and track organizations’ policies and controls related to security and compliance frameworks, GRC tools need to have systems to track ownership and accountability across teams.  

Third-party risk management  
GRC tools should be able to identify and document third-party risks associated with vendors, partners, contractors, and service providers. This should include handling security from the point of third-party onboarding until they are offboarded.  

It is critical that GRC tools ensure that all points of access are closed to prevent unauthorized access.  

Total Cost of Ownership
The cost for GRC solutions can vary significantly and needs to be considered in the context of the total cost of ownership. It is important to take into account expenses related to hardware or hosting, implementation and consulting, training, customization, maintenance, and day-to-day operations. 

Vendor reputation 

As the popularity of GRC tools has grown, so has the number of vendors. Of course, not all are of the same caliber. Implementing GRC tools is a cumbersome, often difficult, process. Therefore, it is important to select a vendor that meets all requirements and will be a viable partner over an extended period of time. 

Workflow automation capability 

GRC tools should include workflow automation capabilities, such as reminders. The workflow automation can be native or achieved with integrations. Automation capabilities to look for include:  

  • Ability to map policies and controls with different frameworks 
  • Alerts for compliance deviations 
  • Evidence collection 
  • GRC awareness testing for employees (e.g., sending fake phishing emails randomly) 
  • Misconfiguration detection and alerts 
  • Risk management  
  • Task management 
  • Vendor risk assessment 

GRC tools FAQ

What is a GRC framework? 
A GRC framework is a strategy and structured plan for managing and controlling governance, risk management, and compliance. 

What is a GRC roadmap? 
A GRC roadmap identifies and explains the steps and components required to implement the plans and strategies set forth in a GRC framework.   

What is the difference between GRC and cybersecurity? 
Cybersecurity is used to protect organizations’ systems, networks, devices, and data. GRC provides the framework and tools to drive these protections into organizations’ processes and ensure that the objectives are achieved. 

Why does GRC fail? 
In some cases, GRC programs fail due to the poor performance of GCR tools. More often, GRC implementations fail as the result of a lack of strategy, insufficient planning, and faulty implementation. 

What are the types of risk in GRC? 
The most commonly used risk categories are strategic, financial, operational, people, regulatory, and finance. 

What are the key focus areas for GRC tools? 

  • Corrupt and illegal practices
  • Privacy and data breaches  
  • Employee behavior
  • Environmental and sustainability concerns  
  • Health and safety  
  • Process risks  

Who is part of a GRC implementation? 

  • Organization’s board or governing body 
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO) 
  • Risk manager 
  • Compliance manager 
  • Internal audit manager 
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO) 
  • Chief Technology officer (CTO) 
  • Head of engineering 
  • Business unit operators and managers 
  • Human resources (HR) leadership 

Tackling risk and improving resilience

Organizations increasingly rely on GRC tools to gain control of unwieldy governance, risk, and compliance objectives. With the stakes high and growing, organizations need GRC tools to bridge gaps between business teams and address friction between IT and business goals. 

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