Big GRC: Turning Data into Actionable GRC Intelligence

While it’s no longer headline news that Governments have carried out large scale data-mining programmes aimed at terrorism detection and identifying other patterns of interest across a wide range of digital data sources, the debate over the ethics and justification over this action, will clearly continue for some time to come.

What is becoming clear is that these programmes are a framework for the collation and aggregation of massive amounts of unstructured data and from this, the creation of actionable intelligence from analyses that allowed the analysts to explore and extract a variety of patterns and then direct resources. This data included audio and video chats, phone calls, photographs, e-mails, documents, internet searches, social media posts and mobile phone logs and connections.

Although Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) professionals are not looking at the implementation of such programmes, there are many similar GRC “Big data” challenges to be faced and potential lessons to be learned from these high profile government programmes that can be applied a lot closer to home.

For example, how can GRC professionals collect, manage and analyze an enormous and disparate volume of data to create and manage their own actionable intelligence covering hidden signs and patterns of criminal activity, the early or retrospective, violation of regulations/laws/corporate policies and procedures, emerging risks and weakening controls etc. Not exactly the stuff of James Bond to be sure, but it is certainly more applicable to most GRC professional’s day to day challenges.

So what is Big Data and how can it benefit the GRC process?

Although it often varies, the definition of Big Data largely refers to the following types of data:

Traditional Enterprise Data – includes customer information from CRM systems, transactional ERP data, web store transactions, and general ledger data.

Machine-Generated /Sensor Data – includes Call Detail Records (“CDR”), weblogs and trading systems data.

Social Data – includes customer feedback streams, micro-blogging sites like Twitter, and social media platforms like Facebook.

The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that data volume is growing 40% per year, and will grow 44x between 2009 and 2020. But while it’s often the most visible parameter, volume of data is not the only characteristic that matters. In fact, according to sources such as Forrester there are four key characteristics that define big data:


  • Volume. Machine-generated data is produced in much larger quantities than non-traditional data. This is all the data generated by IT systems that power the enterprise. This includes live data from packaged and custom applications – for example, app servers, Web servers, databases, networks, virtual machines, telecom equipment, and much more.
  • Velocity. Social media data streams – while not as massive as machine-generated data – produce a large influx of opinions and relationships valuable to customer relationship management as well as offering early insight into potential reputational risk issues. Even at 140 characters per tweet, the high velocity (or frequency) of Twitter data ensures large volumes (over 8 TB per day) need to be managed.
  • Variety. Traditional data formats tend to be relatively well defined by a data schema and change slowly. In contrast, non-traditional data formats exhibit a dizzying rate of change. Without question, all GRC professionals work in a dynamic environment and as new services, new products, new business lines are added or new marketing campaigns executed for example, new data types are needed to capture the resultant information. 
  • Value. The economic value of data varies significantly. Typically, there is good information hidden amongst a larger body of non-traditional data that GRC professionals can use to add real value to the organisation; the greater challenge is identifying what is valuable and then transforming and extracting that data for analysis and action. For example, customer service calls and emails have millions of useful data points and have long been a source of information to GRC professionals. Those calls and emails are critical in helping GRC professionals better identify hidden patterns and implement new policies that can reduce the amount of customer complaints.  

Now on a scale and depth far beyond those in place today, all that unstructured call and email data can be captured, stored and analyzed to reveal the reasons for the contact, perhaps with the aggregated customer results cross referenced against what is being said about the organization or a similar peer organization on social media. The organization can then take positive actions, communicating to the market in advance of issues reaching the press, strengthening controls, adjusting risk profiles, changing policy and procedures and completely minimizing, if not eliminating, complaints and compensation for that specific reason in the future. In this one example of many similar ones, the GRC team(s) has demonstrated real and tangible business value.

Big Challenges - Big Opportunities

As pointed out by recent Forrester research, high performing companies (those that are growing 15% or more year-on-year compared to their peers) are taking a selective approach to investing in Big Data. 

"Tomorrow's winners understand this, and they are making selective investments aimed at specific opportunities with tangible benefits where big data offers a more economical solution to meet a need." (Forrsights Strategy Spotlight: Business Intelligence and Big Data, Q4 2012)

As pointed out earlier, with the ever increasing volume of regulatory demands and fines for getting it wrong, limited resource availability and out of date or inadequate GRC systems all contributing to a higher cost of compliance and/or higher risk profile than desired – a big data investment in GRC clearly falls into this category.

However, to make the most of big data organizations must evolve both their business and IT procedures, processes, people and infrastructures to handle these new high-volume, high-velocity, high-variety sources of data and be able integrate them with the pre-existing company data to be analyzed.

GRC big data clearly allows the organization access to and management over a huge amount of often very sensitive information that although can help create a more risk intelligent organization, also presents numerous data governance challenges, including regulatory compliance and information security.

In addition to client and regulatory demands over better information security and data protection the sheer amount of information organizations deal with the need to quickly access, classify, protect and manage that information can quickly become a key issue  from a legal, as well as technical or operational standpoint.

However, by making information governance processes a bigger part of everyday operations, organizations can make sure data remains readily available and protected.

The Right GRC & Big Data Partnership Becomes Key 

The "getting it right first time" mantra used in so many companies remains essential for any GRC team that is sponsoring, helping kick start, or even overseeing a big data project.

To make a big data GRC initiative work and get the desired value, partnerships with companies, who have a long history of success in delivering successful GRC solutions as well as being at the very forefront of technology innovation, becomes key.

Clearly solutions can be built in-house more cheaply than through vendor, but as has been proven time and time again, when it comes to self built solutions covering AML and Fraud for example, few have able to scale or adapt appropriately to meet the changing regulations or challenges that the GRC teams face on a daily basis. This has led to the creation of GRC silo’s that are causing so many headaches today.

The solutions that stand out and should be explored are the ones that can seamlessly merge the traditional world of well-known data, analytics and visualization with the new world of seemingly innumerable data sources, utilizing Big Data technologies to generate new GRC insights right across the enterprise.

Ultimately, Big Data is here to stay, and organizations that embrace its potential and outline a viable strategy, as well as understand and build a solid analytical foundation, will be the ones that are well positioned to make the most of it.

A Blueprint and Roadmap Service for Big Data

Big data adoption is first and foremost a business decision. As such it is essential that your partner can align your strategies, goals, and objectives with an architecture vision and roadmap to accelerate adoption of big data for your environment, as well as establish practical, effective governance that will maintain a well managed environment going forward.

Key Activities:

While your initiatives will clearly vary, there are some generic starting points the team and organization will need to complete:

  • Clearly define your drivers, strategies, goals, objectives and requirements as it relates to big data
  • Conduct a big data readiness and Information Architecture maturity assessment
  • Develop future state big data architecture, including views across all relevant architecture domains; business, applications, information, and technology
  • Provide initial guidance on big data candidate selection for migrations or implementation
  • Develop a strategic roadmap and implementation plan that reflects a prioritization of initiatives based on business impact and technology dependency, and an incremental integration approach for evolving your current state to the target future state in a manner that represents the least amount of risk and impact of change on the business
  • Provide recommendations for practical, effective Data Governance, Data Quality Management, and Information Lifecycle Management to maintain a well-managed environment
  • Conduct an executive workshop with recommendations and next steps

There is little debate that managing risk and data are the two biggest obstacles encountered by financial institutions.  Big data is here to stay and risk management certainly is not going anywhere, and ultimately financial services industry organizations that embrace its potential and outline a viable strategy, as well as understand and build a solid analytical foundation, will be best positioned to make the most of it.

Matthew Long is a Financial Crime Specialist for Oracle Financial Services. He can be reached at matthew.long AT oracle.com.

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