Making the Vendor Questionnaire Process More Efficient (in 2022)

Edward Kost
Edward Kost
updated Aug 18, 2022

Vendor security questionnaires are frustrating, both to the organizations sending them and the vendors receiving them. While these frustrations remain unaddressed, they will only continue to impede the efficiency of vendor risk management programs.

Fortunately, suffering through security assessments isn’t an unavoidable by-product of a Vendor Risk Management program. With the correct strategies, you can streamline the entire assessment questionnaire lifecycle. Read on to learn how 

Understand Why Your Vendors are Frustrated

Before any frustrations associated with questionaries can be addressed, they must be identified and clearly understood.

Thanks to the ever-increasing threat of data breaches and the rising trend of compromised third-party vendors facilitating supply chain attacks, the criticality of vendor risk management in information security is no longer a debate. Vendors exercising due diligence don’t need to be convinced of the importance of security questionnaires.

The reasons for disrupting questionnaire process efficiency are therefore likely entirely related to poor processes fueling a negative user experience. An effective framework for streamlining the questionnaire process needs to map to each of these key vendor frustrations and address them.

The key to streamlining the vendor questionnaire process is to address the key vendor frustrations impeding submission efficiency.

On average, the top three vendor frustrations associated with the vendor risk assessment process are:

  • Insufficient time for regulatory compliance management.
  • Delayed security questionnaire responses.
  • Generic Risk Assessments Failing to Contextualize Unique Risk Profiles.

Each vendor’s security program ecosystem is unique, so your vendors may have frustrations not included in this list.

Ironically, the most accurate understanding of the questionnaire-related frustrations within your vendor network is best achieved with a custom questionnaire investigating key areas of concern.

Learn more about custom questionnaires.

custom questionnaire builder by UpGuard
Custom questionnaire builder by UpGuard

Store Questionnaire Responses in a Central Database

From a vendor's perspective, one of the most frustrating aspects of the questionnaire process is repeatedly submitting the same types of assessments.

Every time a vendor receives a questionnaire, they need to start the process again from the very beginning - even if they’ve completed the assessment multiple times before for other organizations.

This problem is caused by an inability to save responses in a central repository. Some vendors work around this deficit by saving responses to each assessment in an internal document (usually a Google Spreadsheet) and then copying and pasting each response when a new similar assessment is received. This solution isn't ideal since it adds additional manual steps to the questionnaire submission workflow rather than making the process leaner.

The best method of addressing this problem is by integrating a feature for storing questionnaire responses into your vendor questionnaire management solution. This would allow vendors to select saved responses from a central database storing previous security questionnaire submissions.

An overlap exists between many of the security controls of different regulatory requirements. For example, NIST 800-53, ISO 27001, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and NIST CSF all map to similar security controls.

Security control overlap between regulations
Security control overlap between regulations

By allowing vendors to select saved responses for all questionnaire types, a questionnaire database feature could significantly accelerate all assessment submissions and streamline compliance across multiple regulations.

Another reason a questionnaire database feature is important is that it supports business continuity, allowing other security team members to complete an assessment even when the cybersecurity risk team leader is unavailable.

A security questionnaire database prevents reliance on a single team member’s memorized responses.

Implement a Security Response Management Platform

Without a questionnaire database feature built into your vendor security risk program, your vendors could store their security responses in a response management platform. This workaround still isn’t ideal because it adds additional steps to a third-party risk management (TPRM) program, but it’s open to more automation options than a spreadsheet solution.

Tier your Vendors

This solution addresses a security questionnaire process frustration from the issuer’s perspective.

Vendor relationships have become an essential requirement for maintaining and scaling a successful business. But managing cyber risks and questionnaire submissions across a network for hundreds of service providers isn’t easy.

Vendor tiering is a strategy for simplifying vendor risk management, even across a vast network.

Vendor tiering is the process of organizing vendors into different categories representing increasing levels of risk.

A tiering structure is usually comprised of four levels:

  • Critical vendors
  • High-risk vendors
  • Low-risk vendors

The tiering criteria is entirely subjective. You can tailor it to the unique security requirements of your business.

For example, you could organize vendors in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare in the high-risk tier. And vendors with the potential of having the most significant negative impact on your security posture in the critical tier.

Tiering critical vendors together make it easier to track emerging residual risks, software vulnerabilities and streamline the remediation responses determined from questionnaire submissions.

By grouping together vendors with similar regulatory requirements, the same security questionnaire can be sent to multiple recipients at once, rather than manually filtering out vendors with specific compliance requirements.

Group vendors by regulatory requirements
Group vendors by regulatory requirements

A vendor tiering strategy could also streamline the vendor onboarding process. When grouped together, it’s easier to monitor the collective inherent risks of new vendors with security ratings.

Learn more about vendor tiering.

Streamline Your Vendor Questionnaire Workflow with UpGuard

The UpGuard platform includes features that have been specifically developed to address key vendor questionnaire management assessments.

  • Regulatory compliance gap mapping - The results of questionnaire submissions map to relevant regulations to highlight critical deficits impacting regulatory compliance
  • Streamlined questionnaire communications - Add annotations directly to security questionnaires to keep assessment discussions within the UpGuard platform and not within a messy inbox.
  • Custom questionnaire builder - Send highly-targeted risk assessments that consider the unique risk ecosystem of each vendor.
  • Vendor tiering - Easily manage risk and compliance monitoring across an extensive network for service providers.

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