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Decade of the CSO

Oct 01, 20124 mins
IT LeadershipIT StrategyRisk Management

Looking back at 10 years of change and progress - and forward to what lies ahead

Security as a profession has come a long way in the last decade. This is not just noteworthy, it’s also worth celebrating.

So on the 10th anniversary of CSO’s launch, let’s raise our glasses and toast the Decade of the CSO. Security leadership existed before us, and it will continue after, but this has been a magnificent decade to have front-row seats to watch security mature and fight for its place.

Risk management is more important to more corporate leaders today than it was ten years ago. Security leaders deserve a lot of credit for this as they have become better and better at articulating the business case for security, as we’ll discuss in our annual State of the CSO survey results in the following article.

But the other reason for the rise of risk management is that the security environment has been changing. Bill Boni describes the evolution of security this way: “I think that [elevated] status has been achieved in part by the hard work of practitioners, but in equal measure by the bad works of the threat actors.”

[Read our exclusive research in the companion article State of the CSO 2012: Ready for anything]

Boni was on the cover of the first issue of CSO, in his role as CISO at Motorola. Today he is vice president of information security at T-Mobile. Fraud and theft and corruption were around then—just as they are around today, just as they were in ancient times—but cybercrime in particular has been turned into a business over the past decade. Smarter, more organized threats require smarter, more organized defenses.

So what about the decade to come?

The professionalization of security threats will surely continue, so security must follow suit. Or, ideally, get ahead. This will require still more hard work and evolution on the part of security leaders like yourself. But it also requires more changes in the environment. That’s going to be the hard part—but more on that in a moment.

For your personal evolution, consider a few observations from David Kent, vice president of security at Genzyme (now owned by Sanofi North America).

First, Kent notes, it’s all about the data. “If you look at what Google is doing, what government agencies are doing, it’s the data that is driving the business,” he says.

“Security is part of the [data collection] sensor net. You have to collect data from every angle to give the business or entity competitive advantage. Grabbing data and using it as a way to forecast some activity that would be beneficial to the business—it’s going to be common, there is tremendous value, and security needs to be part of the story.” [Editor’s note: If only we’d had the foresight to call it “big data”.]

Second, Kent says that you still have to differentiate yourself by delivering something greater than what the board expects from their security department.

“Otherwise, you become a commodity,” says Kent. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a guard force manager or the GRC [governance, risk and compliance] guy—if you don’t distinguish yourself, you’ll be a have-not.” Kent says each person needs the drive “to force your way through organizational obstacles” to achieve this differentiation.

Excelling in enterprise risk management (ERM) is one way to outperform the norm. The primary benefit to the company of strong ERM practices, says Kent, is “the identification and assessment of risks across professional disciplines, so that when you do offer your view of the probability and impact, it’s done with this very broad perspective.

“So by extension, the solutions that are going to come to the front are going to carry that broad thought with them and inherently be more efficient,” he says. For the solution or behavior or decision, you’ll have incorporated all those views in a very time-efficient way, and gained the knowledge capital that comes from repeating that process over time.”

Kent’s third point has to do with changing the environment in a positive way.

There is a puzzling data point in the State of the CSO survey: In the ten years that CSO has conducted the survey, the percentage of respondents who hold an MBA has remained almost exactly the same each year—around 15 percent—regardless of fluctuations in average company size or other variables.

Asked to comment on this, Kent speculates that this is a function of demand. Companies hiring CSOs don’t expect business education. Universities don’t incorporate operational risk management into their business curricula, nor do they build business fundamentals into security-related educational tracks.

Think of how things will change for the better if this situation remedied in the next ten years.