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The Complete Guide to Integrated Risk Management

What is integrated risk management, how does it differ from governance, risk and compliance, and how you can start implementing an integrated risk management approach today. 



Integrated Risk Management Overview

Integrated risk management is the combined activities of corporate governance, digital and cyber risk management, and cybersecurity-based compliance integrated into a holistic approach that enables a streamlined program, enhanced enterprise-wide visibility into cyber posture, and meaningful automation to augment teams’ abilities and insights. 

The needs of businesses today are changing. As organizations large and small embrace more and more digital technology to enable their teams, they are also increasing the business risk associated with that technology. Where before the siloed approach of Governance Risk and Compliance teams operating almost independently was sufficient, this rapid increase in technology adoption has shifted the needs of information security teams and the businesses they serve.

Many forces caused the next iteration of security, privacy, and risk management to emerge: the integration of technology into business-side teams made digital risks ubiquitous across the organization, not just within technical teams. In today’s business environment, CISOs and information security leaders are being called to report to their CEO and Board on the cybersecurity posture of their organization. With breaches such as Colonial, JBS, and Kaseya, CEOs and Boards have seen how information security can have a direct impact on the bottom line. As the scope of IT risk assessment has expanded to include the entire business, information security leaders can no longer operate in modular and siloed teams. Integrated risk management (IRM) delivers a comprehensive view of enterprise-wide risk across business units, compliance functions, promotes business continuity, and enables enterprise-wide information security governance.

Integrated Risk Management vs GRC

How Integrated Risk Management (IRM) Differs From Governance Risk and Compliance (GRC)

An integrated risk management system deviates from the conventional checkbox compliance activities and modular GRC tools that most teams have used to build their organizations. An integrated risk management strategy is fundamentally different from that of a legacy GRC approach. IRM strategy practitioners focus on enabling a risk-aware culture in their organization, embracing flexible and easy-to-use solutions within their teams, an integrated view of business, and building on outcomes-based frameworks that evaluates risk in a business context rather than checking boxes on the next compliance framework. This is not to say that governance risk and compliance activities have no place in organizations. Instead, governance risk and compliance as three functions are the foundational aspects of an integrated risk management approach to cybersecurity program management.

The idea of Governance Risk and Compliance (GRC) is not new to the information security industry. For years, GRC approaches and solutions have enabled organizations to operate cybersecurity teams for all three of those functions (corporate governance, IT risk, and industry and geographic compliance). The triggers that have caused the shift away from a siloed approach have also caused information security leaders to seek out integrated risk management as a means to align their entire information security organization to deliver on these new expectations.  

More is expected from information security teams in the form of visibility into their organization and reporting to business-side leaders. As all aspects of the business embrace more technology, information security teams need tools that automate much of the GRC activities that they have used for years. An approach that integrates governance, risk management, and compliance management activities supports these three new requirements for information security teams. Integrated risk management is the guiding strategy, the next layer above GRC, where governance, risk, and compliance requirements are the tactics and functions that deliver on enhancing an organization’s cybersecurity posture.

Implementing an IRM Program

How to Implement An Integrated Risk Management Program

There are four pillars to implementing an integrated risk management program: 

  1. Aligning your cyber strategy with business outcomes
  2. Facilitating a risk-aware, risk-engaged culture
  3. Integrating risk into business strategy discussions
  4. Effectively reporting on a risk-based approach

Align Your Cyber Strategy With Business Outcomes

The new role of CISO is acting as a bridge between technical cybersecurity teams and business-side stakeholders and executive management. The critical step is to ensure that you align your cyber strategy and tactics with the business outcomes that executive management is seeking to achieve. This alignment helps show business leaders that cyber can be a business enabler, not a hindrance to business growth. Start by asking yourself what identified risks you’re investing the most time and effort in mitigating. What are the disruptions caused by those risks if left unprotected? Is your company enabling technologies that improve performance through an integrated view of risk?

Presenting the managed risks of the organization in a business context empowers non-IT executives and shares the accountability to secure the organization beyond technical stakeholders. Sharing your knowledge helps the entire organization recognize that security is now an organization-wide effort that everyone must be aware of and participate in. This shift also allows non-technical business leaders to make more informed strategic decisions for their respective business units within the context of digital risk and the unique set of risks they may face.

Facilitate A Risk-aware, Risk-engaged Culture

Any goal of shifting an organizational culture can appear daunting, but with the right amount of patience and correct approach, it is possible. As a CISO, it is critical to ensure that you have buy-in from allies and colleagues within the C-suite to support your effort of shifting culture. While every organization is different, trends emerge when choosing a dream team of initial stakeholders to get buy-in: the Chief Operating Officer (COO), the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

integrated risk management - CyberSaint IRM

CyberSaint partner’s experience, these positions as first alliances prove true. In one of these case studies, they worked with a Fortune 100 entertainment company, and their point of contact was the Director of IT (eventually the CISO when they created the position). The IT Director knew that they needed to increase risk awareness across the organization and began soliciting buy-in from the CIO and the COO. The reason for this choice was that with the CIO’s technical understanding and the COO’s process of identifying ownership of employee development, these two would be the IT Director’s best evangelists as the program grew. The results were stunning. Once the IT Director, CIO, and COO had established the needs and goals they began expanding in concentric circles - going from three to 15 to 100 and so on until they did alter the company culture.

A culture change of any kind is daunting - it is a journey that requires patience, diligence, and constant vigilance to ensure that the new ideas remain and scale with the organization. For CISO’s working to increase cyber risk awareness at their organization, stating that you are going to change the culture is like saying you’re going to change the direction of a river - it is possible, but you have to start small. Start with critical stakeholders that will facilitate the change with you and be prepared to evangelize. Changing the organization may require changes to you and your team first - sometimes the most significant barrier to CISO’s getting buy-in for their programs was the inability of the C-suite to understand the technical jargon that most program management tools deliver. Instead, communicate in the language that Boards and CEOs can understand - remember, they want to follow. Ensure that together with the right alliances, the right technology can empower your team to support a risk-based culture more effectively via your new integrated risk management strategy. 

Risk Is A Critical Aspect Of Business Strategy

CISOs implementing an IRM program must see the give and take between business growth and security. Any strategic decision or new business growth shifts the risk landscape and could impact business. In today’s business world, the assumption is that new business growth is in some way related to technology and as such increases the digital risk profile of the organization. 

Effective risk management activities result in secure growth for the business. Although, too many CISOs see any residual risk as a failure to do their job. However, a risk-aware culture enables the organization to effectively convey the decisions of which risks to address, and why a set of practices exists. This transparency is imperative to ensure that the whole organization knows where it stands on risk management activities.

Effectively Report On Your New Risk-based Approach

If it’s not measured, it’s not managed. Shifting from a checklist compliance-based approach to integrated risk management will change the way your security organization reports on its success. An integral value of an integrated approach to risk and compliance is the powerful insights that leaders can glean from all of that information being in one place. Where cybersecurity organizations would previously have to spend weeks or months generating reports from scores of spreadsheets and risk registers, using an integrated approach and an IRM program not only delivers better stories and insights but automates much of the reporting process.

IRM Solutions

Integrated Risk Management Software and Solutions

Integrated risk management (IRM) solutions are fundamentally different from modular GRC tools. They are designed from the ground up to be a single-pane-of-glass platform that enables streamlined assessments, internal audit management, and vendor risk management from one location while also delivering meaningful data visualization and reporting. Rather than a collection of modules, IRM software solutions support the same functions as modular governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) (and more) from one software which allows for more automation and more informed decision-making than possible with fragmented governance, risk, and compliance management.

As cybersecurity is elevated to a Board- and CEO-level issue, the role it plays in overall enterprise risk management is becoming apparent. With that comes a need for an integrated risk management approach for information security teams - changing the way organizations manage cybersecurity and cyber risk. As we’ve discussed, the need for greater understanding from business-side leaders has incited the need to shift from governance, risk, and compliance to integrated risk management (IRM).

Delivering metrics and insights to business-side leaders is paramount to overall enterprise success, yet it makes the technical remediation of identified managed risks and the work that cybersecurity teams do no less critical. This is where automation plays a key role in enabling the application of integrated risk management.

governance risk and compliance vs Integrated Risk ManagementWhere most pre-existing governance, risk and compliance (GRC) solutions are modular, the fundamental principle of integrated risk management is a single-pane-of-glass solution that increases visibility and streamlines the assessment and remediation process. Using tools and technologies that improve decision-making processes and visibility into cyber posture is critical to integrated risk management success. It is important to note that while GRC solutions have been marketing their customizability, it comes at the expense of time to value. AutomationGRC vs Integrated Risk Management-02 tools that are backed by AI customize themselves with more usage - giving users both rapid time to value as well as the necessary configurability for their organization. 

Integrated risk management solutions are designed from the ground up to enable this fundamental shift from GRC applications to IRM solutions. IRM solutions are not modular - where governance, risk, and compliance solutions are priced and sold based on modularity, integrated risk management solutions are fully integrated but no less useful. Where governance, risk, and compliance solutions delivered value through manual customizability of their products through modules and configuration, integrated risk management solutions deliver value through simplicity and ease of use.

In an integrated risk management platform, audit teams and vendor risk teams conduct their assessments on the same platform. From an end-user perspective, this makes the assessors’ lives more manageable in that there is one single-source-of-truth and one platform that everyone is operating off. For management, having all of this real time data enables faster and better decision-making: all-in-one means more data, more information means better insights, and better insights mean more valuable reports. Critical capabilities of an IRM platform come back to enabling a risk-aware culture and mediating risk mitigation while also achieving compliance standards.

Be leery of GRC tools that adopt the term integrated risk management. Where the right technology can be a powerful enabler of the transition from fragmented GRC solutions to IRM solutions, the opposite can happen when information security teams are stuck working with spreadsheets or legacy GRC software. Selecting the right integrated risk management tool for your organization comes down to ensuring that your entire organization can glean value and the amount of process you can offload through automation. The optimal integrated risk management tool will help all facets of a cybersecurity organization deliver while also helping CISO as they are elevated into more and more CEO and Board level discussions.

Integrated Risk Management Approach

Realizing Your Vision For Integrated Risk Management

Shifting from a modular approach to managing cybersecurity and compliance to integrating security, privacy, and risk is daunting. It won’t happen overnight. An integrated risk management approach requires security leaders to commit to the journey, not just for their teams and organization but the entire business as a whole. As we enter a new phase of privacy and security regulations and attacks get increasingly complex, CISOs are the champions of security to the board, CEO, and the rest of the enterprise. It will be challenging, and the change won’t always be easy, but with the right allies, IRM vendors, tools, and approach, you and your organization can make the shift to integrated risk management. 

Download the Integrated Risk Management Buying Guide to get a deep dive into the critical capabilities to look for in an IRM solution.