Regarding risk management and compliance, most organisations operate on a 3 Lines of Defense (3LOD) model, in which operational management, compliance, and internal audit work together to assess and mitigate risk and manage controls and compliance.
This model may be successful in theory, but as the risk management and compliance functions have grown more complex, it doesn’t always work as well as you might hope. Given the rising sophistication of cybersecurity threats and incidents of fraud and the increasing compliance requirements posed upon organisations of all sizes, it can be challenging to keep an organization-wide pulse on threats and breaches in compliance as they arise.
The problem is that the three branches don’t always collaborate effectively, which may leave internal audits out of the loop and unable to provide much value to the organisation. They may not have access to the data they need to generate practical recommendations. The internal audit team’s focus may be simply on checking boxes and ensuring compliance rather than providing strategic insights that will help your organisation understand and take steps to mitigate new threats.
If you want your internal audit team to move the needle at your organisation, you need to get the ear of executives who can advocate for your work. By partnering with leadership, you can spearhead new initiatives and gain critical access to data to help your organisation save money and reduce risk, proving your team’s value.
Here are four strategies for doing that effectively:
- Identify the key people who can support you and make a plan to build relationships with them
Your audit team will naturally be in touch with the managers who can provide critical information needed to conduct your audits—but by focusing only on these contacts, you’re missing out on building relationships with the leaders who will be able to help you gain a more visible role in the organisation. Build a plan for periodic outreach to higher-level executives within your organisation, such as your chief risk officer or CTO. You can solicit feedback from them on any open questions they may want your team to review in your audits or provide high-level executive briefs showcasing work that you’ve done and issues they may want to explore in further detail. Ensure they know you and your team are available to support them and open for feedback.
- Proactively address organization-wide trends
Rather than focusing solely on issues identified in individual audits, start looking at your audit results in the aggregate to identify trends. Is a single department or office location having trouble resolving a specific compliance issue, or is it an overall trend that should be shared with your executive team? Review your data frequently to understand risks that should be mitigated, and develop step-by-step action plans for how they should be addressed, including who’s responsible and the benchmarks for success.
- Pay close attention to third-party risks
Many audit teams take an insular view of risk management, failing to uncover the external risks vendors and technology partners bring. Ensure you have policies to carefully vet and automate compliance on your third-party vendors, pulling in external data that will alert you to any financial or legal issues they may face. Regularly track your solutions and technology partners for red flags, and ensure you have a strategy for mitigating them. You can showcase your findings in sessions with executives and other partners throughout the business and collaborate to develop a plan for any of your scenarios. Remember that risks from big providers such as Amazon or Facebook may impact many of your customers or partners, so ensure that you map out all of the variables that may affect your company’s business model across the board.
- Use best-in-class GRC technology to automate compliance and analyse data
To provide the most valuable insights to your leadership team, it’s essential to integrate your entire risk management function across an easy-to-use GRC platform. Your GRC platform should have pre-built content to help you automate your controls framework, regardless of your industry. It should make it easy to monitor compliance status and risk levels across the organisation at any given time, with triggers prompting action when control levels are not being met. You should be able to quickly drill down into your data and generate executive dashboards to share insights to justify recommendations and help your leadership team make better-informed business decisions.
By building a cohesive strategy for integrating with the 3LOD, backed by in-depth data analytics, real-time data feeds, and workflow automation, your audit team will generate insights that can help identify new risks and develop new strategies for mitigating risks across the entire organisation. This will help you to become a highly visible, influential, and trusted partner to the business.