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Response Management

How to Efficiently Respond to Security Questionnaires and Assessments

January 27, 2023

Companies need third parties to do business. After all, third parties are vendors, partners, and suppliers—all the businesses that make it possible for an organization to make and distribute their products. Unfortunately, vendors come along with cyber risk and enterprises can’t do much about that.

In the last few years cybercriminals have been targeting SaaSes and other vendors in the hopes that smaller companies, like start-ups, won’t have the rigorous cybersecurity controls of some of their larger clients. This approach has been working; many bad actors have been able to target clients’ data through their vendors.

This understandably makes enterprise clients nervous; a 2022 report from the Ponemon Institute found that just 39 percent of companies believe they’re able to effectively mitigate third party risk.

What does that mean for you and your team? Usually it means longer, more complicated security, and ultimately more time-consuming security assessments.

What is a security assessment?

Security assessments, or security questionnaires are a due diligence tool used by prospective customers to ensure vendor compliance. Within our client base, we’ve seen an uptick over the past years of not only the volume of security questionnaires our clients are receiving but also an increase in the size of these questionnaires— some with more than 1,000 questions.

Long, complex questionnaires are an attempt on the part of the buyer to mitigate risk, but long questionnaires can be a problem for vendors. Completing an assessment can eat up a lot of time, and no two assessments are the same.

So what can you do to make the process easier and, most importantly, quicker—even if you’re staring down a 1,000+ question assessment?

1. Avoid Them When You Can

The best way to streamline your security assessment process? Perhaps you can avoid them altogether. Frequently, vendors send standardized assessments as part of due diligence.

Take a proactive approach. Posting a robust security FAQ on your website or having a standard response format handy to deliver to prospects can stave off the need for custom security assessment responses. Other resources you could share include summaries of recent security audits, abridged versions of your security policies, or ISO 270001/SOC2 compliance attestations.

2. Create a Response Repository

Sometimes you absolutely cannot avoid having to answer a questionnaire. In that case, create a repository that will make responses easier.

If you’re not leveraging a response platform like Ombud, you should be. With Ombud, you can create a response repository by importing recent security questionnaires, as well as authoring responses straight in the platform.

When creating a repository, you should first look at the standard formats you receive. A format we see often at Ombud is the Shared Assessment’s Standard Information Gathering (SIG) Assessment. Other standard formats our team regularly encounters are CAIQ, ARIBA, and VRMMM. Each of these formats is made available for use by teams by third-party security firms and solutions instead of the customer having to create homegrown security assessments. They generally have specific scoring around how a vendor answers, so be sure to research how each is scored.

After curating responses for the standard formats, understand the gaps you may still have. This may include looking at your less popular product offerings, region-specific responses (think GDPR and other regional regulations), and industry-specific responses.

3. Define a Clear Process for Responses & Updates

Once you create the repository, you’ll have to keep those responses updated. Generally, it’s a best practice to update either yearly or product-release cadences (depending on the content). A response solution like Ombud makes this process easy with expiration date functionality and notification triggers so content never goes stale.

When responding to questionnaires, it’s invaluable to have the curated response repository. Ombud even has a functionality where you can leverage only the curated answers so you always know you have accurate information going out to your prospective customers. Additionally, we can automate the response process through our “automated suggestions” feature, which takes the first pass at responding to a questionnaire, saving your team valuable time and streamlining your efforts.

4. Limit Security Team Intervention

With a repository in place with regular updates, it’s easier to trust the content you have and, in turn, that makes it easier to trust your team to manage these questionnaires. For standard formats as those mentioned above, it may even be possible to allow the sales team to respond with no intervention from IT, security, or compliance experts.

Scale Your Security Expertise - And Start Today

Security assessments are an unavoidable part of selling to enterprise clients. However, you can minimize the amount of time you spend on them by automating the process and leveraging a content library. This will give your team back the time you need to focus on sales, and set your customer’s minds at ease.

Interested in learning more? Find out how Ombud can help you optimize your responses to security questionnaires. Request your demo here.

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