Creating and implementing a third-party risk management program might seem like the most difficult part of the vendor risk management process for many higher education institutions. However, after implementing a TPRM program, organizations must continue to manage their third-party risk using the program they’ve developed with post-implementation strategies.

Post-implementation is often overlooked when evaluating third-party risk management processes because organizations believe the process is over after establishing the TPRM program. However, it is critical to the ongoing health of an effective third-party risk management program and especially significant for higher education institutions that deal with a large amount of sensitive student data and a growing third-party vendor library.

In this blog, we’ll explore post-implementation best practices for a higher education institution’s TPRM program. With a distinct focus on the growing operational, cybersecurity, and financial risks of colleges and universities, the best practices outlined below are designed to help higher education organizations better manage their third-party vendors and third-party risks.

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3 Post-Implementation Best Practices for TPRM Programs

The post-implementation stage of a third-party risk management program involves the ongoing management, monitoring, and optimization of processes and relationships with third-party vendors after the initial setup and integration of the TPRM framework. For higher education institutions, this phase is crucial to maintaining their educational and administrative processes' integrity, security, and effectiveness.

Once an institution implements its TPRM program, personnel must follow best practices to ensure continuous risk mitigation and compliance with evolving regulations. This phase is vital for safeguarding sensitive student and faculty data against emerging cyber threats and data breaches and preventing reputational risk. Post-implementation strategies provide continuous monitoring across third-party relationships. Moreover, it entails reviewing vendor performance and contracts consistently, ensuring they align with the institution’s changing needs in a dynamic risk landscape.

When organizations do not engage in post-implementation activities after establishing a TPRM program, they risk the program becoming outdated and ineffective, unable to address new and evolving risks associated with third-party vendors. This oversight can lead to unmitigated risks, regulatory non-compliance, and potential breaches or failures that could have significant financial, operational, and reputational consequences for the organization.

Post-implementation practices build a resilient educational environment, maintain stakeholder trust, and minimize inherent risk by addressing potential vulnerabilities and compliance gaps in third-party engagements. The best practices outlined in this blog cover three distinct categories for effective TPRM:

Continuous risk assessments and monitoring

Due to the diverse range of risks higher education institutions face, risk assessment and continuous monitoring strategies form the foundation of third-party risk management post-implementation best practices.

Institutions of higher education often handle large amounts of sensitive data, including personal information of students and staff, healthcare data, financial loan information, and research data, making them attractive targets for cyber threat actors. The increase in outsourcing to third-party service providers further amplifies this risk landscape. Once service providers are onboarded, they must be monitored and audited regularly through risk assessments. These assessment activities help to minimize any third-party risk that the service providers might present to an institution.

Best practices in this category focus on continuously identifying, evaluating, and mitigating any third-party vulnerabilities—protecting sensitive information while maintaining compliance with relevant regulations. Specific strategies include:

  • Continuous risk monitoring and assessment: Evaluate third-party vendors continuously to manage potential risks that may arise during the relationship. Regular monitoring and assessment ensures prompt identification and resolution of changes in a vendor's supply chain operations, financial status, or compliance posture throughout the entire vendor lifecycle. This proactive approach helps institutions adjust their real-time risk management strategies, safeguarding their operations.
  • Data security and privacy management: Higher education institutions must enforce robust data security controls and privacy standards throughout a vendor's lifecycle. Data security and privacy management are critical for compliance requirements with institutional policies and regulations like FERPA and GDPR. This practice includes regular cybersecurity assessments and audits, as well as requiring vendors to implement specific data protection protocols, like multi-factor authentication (MFA) or access controls.
  • Regulatory compliance and adaptation: Ensuring third-party vendors comply with all relevant regulations and legal requirements reduces university compliance risk. These regulations can include HIPAA and FERPA for higher education institutions in the United States and potentially broader regulations like GDPR for data protection. Regularly update risk management frameworks to reflect new legal standards and conduct periodic reviews to ensure vendors remain aligned with any changes.

These risk assessment and monitoring strategies allow colleges and universities to productively manage their network of third-party vendors after implementing a TPRM program, reducing risk while addressing potential vulnerabilities.

How UpGuard can help

UpGuard Vendor Risk is a comprehensive third-party risk management solution built to help your organization streamline vendor risk management.

Vendor Risk features a wide range of risk assessment processes and monitoring tools that enable users to quickly evaluate the security posture of their vendors and identify any potential vulnerabilities that present a risk. These features include:

  • Security ratings: Instantly understand your vendor’s security posture and risk profile with our data-driven, objective, and dynamic security ratings. Ratings are updated daily based on analyzing each vendor’s underlying domains and security posture and can help categorize vendors based on the level of risk.
  • Security questionnaires: Automate your security questionnaires to get deeper insights into your vendors’ security and risk exposure with over twenty industry-standard questionnaires, including PCI DSS, COBIT 5, GDPR, GDPR, and more.

Ongoing vendor management and performance tracking

During the post-implementation stage, regular performance evaluations and ongoing vendor management are crucial to ensure all third-party service providers consistently meet the higher education institution’s quality, reliability, and security standards.

Protecting student data and intellectual property is paramount for colleges and universities. After implementing a third-party risk management program, robust vendor management helps mitigate risks associated with data breaches, service disruptions, and non-compliance with educational standards and regulations.

Higher education institutions can ensure vendor partnerships deliver intended value by rigorously monitoring and managing performance without compromising security or compliance. Strategies for vendor management and performance include:

  • Performance management and SLA compliance: Regularly evaluate the performance of vendors against predefined service level agreements (SLAs) by monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs), addressing any service quality issues, and implementing improvement plans when necessary. These evaluations help maintain high service standards and foster accountability in vendor relationships—which is crucial for the day-to-day operations of higher education institutions.
  • Vendor relationship management: Alongside ensuring vendors deliver the expected services, higher education institutions can build positive, productive relationships with their vendors by integrating vendor relationship management. Managing vendor relationships includes setting regular communication channels, collaborative problem-solving, and identifying mutual goals and expectations. Ongoing relationship management ensures vendors are aligned with an institution’s objectives, responsive to its needs, and engaged in contributing to its success.
  • Contract management: During procurement, new vendor onboarding, and renewal periods, meticulously administrate contracts with third-party vendors. Contract management includes negotiating contract terms, ongoing monitoring for compliance, and timely identification and resolution of contract-related issues. Effective contract management aids in mitigating risks, avoiding misunderstandings, and ensuring the vendor relationship delivers value to a higher education institution.

Managing third-party vendors and monitoring their performance after implementing a TPRM program encourages accountability across your library of vendors while continuing to mitigate third-party risk.

How UpGuard can help

UpGuard Vendor Risk streamlines your organization’s vendor risk management program with features designed specifically for vendor management.

Instead of manually tracking vendors across spreadsheets and documents, UpGuard Vendor Risk centralizes your entire vendor inventory in a convenient dashboard, where you can view and manage the entire vendor lifecycle with automated and instant workflows. Additional vendor management features include:

  • Vendor inventory: UpGuard’s integrated vendor library helps you find, track, and monitor the security posture of any organization instantly, with additional label functionality to tag vendors with key characteristics—making it easier to filter and identify vendors of a specific type.
  • Vendor classification: Prioritize and tier your vendors to apply the appropriate level of due diligence through the risk assessment process. Classify your vendors by criticality or UpGuard risk assessment activities.
  • Vendor summary: Get an executive-level overview of an individual vendor’s security posture, which includes key vendor information, security rating, questionnaire and remediation context, and a twelve-month security performance.

Incident management and compliance

Incident management and compliance are critical post-implementation best practices for third-party risk management. Higher education has been a popular target for cyber attacks due to the large amount of sensitive information and typically lackluster cybersecurity measures across universities and their third-party vendors. According to Check Point’s Mid-Year Report for 2022, the education sector had 44% more cyber attacks than the year earlier. An average of about 2300 attacks against educational organizations were reported weekly. Moreover, compliance is equally crucial in this sector, where a complex web of regulations, such as FERPA, HIPAA, and GDPR, requires institutions to uphold strict data security standards.

Developing a robust incident management framework for third-party vendors helps prepare institutions for promptly and professionally managing data breaches or other information security incidents that may occur. Incident management ensures a prepared and coordinated response to security incidents, minimizing the impact on business operations and facilitating swift recovery.

In 2015, UC Berkeley experienced a data breach that exposed the Social Security numbers and bank account details of over 100,000 individuals, including students and alumni. However, the university’s prompt incident response and management plan—which included immediate reporting, transparent communication with affected parties, and the rapid implementation of enhanced security measures—minimized the breach’s impact and downtime of university operations.

Effective incident management and strict compliance are not just regulatory requirements but foundational to the trust and credibility educational institutions must uphold in their communities and for their students and employees. Specific strategies for incident management and compliance include:

  • Business continuity planning: Universities must establish a systematic process for reporting and managing incidents that involve third-party vendors. Develop and validate a business continuity plan to ensure the institution can maintain or quickly resume critical functions during a disruption, minimizing vendor operational risk.
  • Reporting and documentation: Third-party risk management requires a lot of reporting and documentation from third-party vendors, which help inform risk assessments, compliance checks, and incident responses. Higher education institutions must regularly update and review documents to ensure accuracy and provide a clear audit trail, enhancing transparency, accountability, and informed decision-making.
  • Technology and automation: Higher education institutions can leverage technology and automation to streamline and enhance the efficiency of their TPRM processes. Technology and automation integration can enhance third-party relationship management, reduce errors, and improve risk and regulatory management. One example is UpGuard Vendor Risk, which automates third-party risk assessment workflows and provides instant notifications about vendor security.

No college or university wants to plan for a potential data breach or cybersecurity incident, especially from a third-party vendor. However, with the growing focus on higher education for cybercriminals, universities must prepare their third-party vendors with detailed incident management compliance strategies after implementing a TPRM program.

How UpGuard can help

The key to successful incident management in TPRM is preparation, which includes addressing any vulnerability before it can become a security incident. UpGuard Vendor Risk is designed to help your organization identify and mediate vulnerabilities across your entire vendor library.

Additional incident management and compliance reporting features include:

  • Automated remediation workflows: Simplify and accelerate how you request remediation of cybersecurity risks from your third-party vendors—before they become security incidents. Our built-in workflows and remediation planners provide real-time data, progress tracking, and notifications when issues are fixed.
  • Reporting and insights: UpGuard’s report templates make it easier and faster for you to access tailor-made reports for different stakeholders, including executive reporting, vendor risk reports, and custom report templates.
  • Vulnerability detection: UpGuard Vendor Risk lists vulnerabilities identified through information exposed in your vendor’s HTTP headers, website content, and open ports. Our free Risks and Vulnerabilities blog category focuses on specific risk findings and vulnerabilities, including how to resolve and mitigate common issues facing your organization.

UpGuard: The #1 Third Party & Supplier Risk Management Software

If your college or university wants to take its TPRM framework to the next level, consider UpGuard Vendor Risk: our all-in-one TPRM platform that allows you to assess your organization’s Vendor Risk Management ecosystem. With Vendor Risk, you can automate your third-party risk assessment workflows and get real-time notifications about your vendors’ security in one centralized dashboard—from onboarding through offboarding and beyond.

UpGuard is proud to be named the #1 Third-Party & Supplier Risk Management Software in Winter 2024, according to G2, the world’s most trusted peer review site for business software. UpGuard was also named a Market Leader in the category across the Americas, APAC, and EMEA regions for the sixth consecutive quarter, reflecting the customers' trust and confidence in the platform.

Additional Vendor Risk features include:

  • Security Questionnaires: Automate security questionnaires with workflows to gain deeper insights into your vendors’ security and utilize templates (NIST, GDPR, HIPAA, and more) and custom questionnaires for your specific needs.
  • Security Ratings: Instantly understand your vendors' security posture and criticality with our metric-driven, objective, and dynamic security ratings.
  • Risk Assessments: Let us guide you each step of the way with streamlined vendor risk assessment workflows that encompass gathering evidence, assessing risks, and requesting remediation.
  • Monitoring Vendor Risk: Monitor your vendors daily and view the details to understand the risks impacting a vendor’s security posture.
  • Reporting and Insights: UpGuard’s report templates provide tailor-made reports for different stakeholders.

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