How Denver replaced spreadsheets with Vendor Risk Management


County and City of Denver

In 2018, if you were a third-party vendor looking to provide products or services to the city and county of Denver, officials there had a few questions—more than 300, in fact.

To assess vendor risk exposure, the city had long required applicants to fill out a 60-page questionnaire, which was then reviewed by the agency soliciting services, the information security team, and the purchasing department. The process could take six to eight weeks to complete. 

Team members tracked their evaluations on simple spreadsheets that lacked clear or consistent risk scoring.  Vendors were often confused by the process, leading to protracted email exchanges. And regardless of the scale of services proposed, the process was one-size-fits all. “We said, ‘this is a mess,’” recalled Julie Sutton, Denver’s information security manager, at a breakout session at Knowledge 2019. “We have to have a new process.”

For Sutton, the new process had four requirements: It needed to be clear, easy to review, flexible, and customizable. ServiceNow’s Vendor Risk Management, as it turned out, met those needs. Using the Now platform, Sutton and her 12-person security team were able to transform the city’s risk-assessment process within four months.

Process overhaul
In the fall of 2018, Sutton and her team started putting the massive vendor questionnaire under the microscope. They eliminated 173 security questions that were too hard to score consistently. Next they ditched spreadsheets and PDFs and replaced them with a single, easy-to-navigate portal for the entire process.

The portal went live to vendors in January 2019—without a beta test. Sutton wasn’t sure it was user-ready, but the old process was so broken that she rolled the dice. “I don’t always know the answers before I start, but I’m not going to wait until I know,” Sutton explained. “I just decided to push the button and see what happened.”

Here’s what happened: Vendors no longer rely on email. All communication, both externally with vendors and internally with city and county officials, makes use of the portal. All security reviews are automatically scored and graded. For decision makers, documentation is clear and traceable. And vendors are easily set up for future review, which is required annually. Best of all for the internal groups that work with Julie’s team, their experience didn’t change.  They don’t even know they’re using Vendor Risk Management; they just know it works better.

Lessons from the launch
That said, the rapid rollout was not without hiccups. But even those left Sutton with some valuable takeaways. First, make sure vendors can only see what you want them to see, not internal scoring or communications. (As Sutton recalled, they learned that one the hard way. ) Second, build a process into the portal for vendors to report errors. And finally, not all out-of-the-box notifications are necessary.

The results have been dramatic. Vendor screening processes that once took six to eight weeks are now completed in one to three weeks. The visibility provided by Vendor Risk Management means there is no single point of failure. And the number of emails from vendors also declined, which Sutton says had a big impact on her team’s productivity.

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