4 top challenges to a secure digital transformation

Improving cybersecurity is becoming a driving factor for starting digital transformation projects. Mistakes in implementation, however, can be costly.

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Digital transformation is vital to many companies' long-term survival, in that it can help them defend against agile startups, better meet customer expectations, find new opportunities, and reduce costs.

In addition, it can improve security. According to a survey 451 Research conducted late last year, 49 percent of IT professionals and line-of-business managers says that securing customer data is one of their main transformation objectives.

Research firm Lucid surveyed IT leaders this summer and, again, 49 percent of IT leaders say that better cybersecurity protection is one of the reasons their company is looking at digital transformation. (Lucid had not released the survey results at this writing.) Forty percent say that cybersecurity is the area of digital transformation their company is investing the most in.

"We are actually seeing more IT leaders take on digital transformation projects to support their cybersecurity strategies," says Monica Bush, director of security and compliance at Nintex, a security vendor that sponsored the survey. That includes everything from better access permissions during employee onboarding and offboarding, she says, all the way to big projects like tracking the location of sensitive data for GDPR and other compliance requirements.

In addition, moving to modern infrastructures, including cloud-based solutions like Office 365, can often improve security just by itself. Chad Weinman, VP of professional services at RiskLens, says that he's conducted risk analyses recently for large enterprises considering moving to cloud vendors. "We're going to be more worried about outages and data protection because our email environment isn't on-premises anymore," he says. "But what we've found is that the management of Office 365 by Microsoft is often far ahead of what the organization itself was doing, so overall, the actual exposure reduces when migrating to the cloud, rather than increasing."

Digital transformation projects could also lead to reduced visibility into the corporate environment, fewer human-powered checkpoints, and exposure to new kinds of threats, experts say. In fact, according to a recent survey by Fortinet, security is by far the biggest challenge to digital transformation efforts, with 85 percent of CSOs and CISOs saying it is a big hurdle.

Few companies are building cyber and privacy risk management into their digital transformation correctly, says Sean Joyce, US cybersecurity and privacy leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers in a recent report. "The winners of the future are going to be the ones that from the design phase all the way to production build in that risk management," he says. "it’s a brand-defining opportunity.”

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