Is the CISO Reporting Structure Outdated?

Security has become a top concern for enterprises, so it’s no wonder that the chief information security officer (CISO) reporting structure has changed. The position has risen in the organizational structure to the inner echelon of the C-suite, giving the CISO top-level visibility within the business.

That doesn’t guarantee autonomy, however. The CISO’s ability to dictate a budget and make decisions independently may still depend on where the position falls on the organizational chart.

Shifting the CISO Reporting Structure

According to K logix, more than half of CISOs report to the chief information officer (CIO) while 15 percent report to the chief executive officer (CEO). The rest report to the chief operation officer (COO) or a risk management leader. This structure makes sense for companies in the early stages of securing their infrastructure because the CIO is the incumbent responsible for information and data.

Keeping the company data safe traditionally falls to the CIO, and in recent data breaches it’s been the CIO who has taken the blame for the intrusions. However, that reporting structure is changing, the K logix study reported. Half of the CISOs asked predicted that they would soon report to the CEO. This should help leaders avoid conflicts of interest.

It’s also a necessary change for organizations attracting more experienced security executives. Because of their impressive resumes, these job candidates expect to be higher on the organizational ladder. That often means reporting directly to the CEO, not a CIO.

The CISO’s Growing Influence

Enterprises are beginning to understand the issues surrounding security threats. Threats have grown too complex to monitor without a dedicated focus on security. CIOs have plenty of responsibilities on their plates, including rising demands for new applications.

If security were simply a subset of IT infrastructure, it would make sense to maintain a reporting structure in which security professionals report to the CIO. However, every facet of the enterprise depends on a secure IT infrastructure, and today’s CISOs are finding that they need to work with multiple C-level authorities.

While interacting with multiple top-level executives is common, disputes can arise at that level when subordinates take direction outside the chain of command. Marketing initiatives, for example, are tied to customer engagement strategies, which require input from IT. As such, the CMO has a responsibility to understand and provide input into security issues.

“As technology sits at the heart of customer engagement strategies, marketing functions are becoming increasingly influential in IT decisions, and their demands are often greater than the CIO’s,” Forrester noted.

It’s easy to understand that the CMO and CIO may have different viewpoints on specific matters that fall under the domain of the CISO. It should be the CISO’s job to lead the discussion and make independent decisions related to information security. When the CISO has a direct reporting relationship to the CEO or COO, the question of final authority becomes clearer.

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Scott Koegler

Freelance Writer and Former CIO

Scott Koegler practiced IT as a CIO for 15 years. He also has more than 20 years experience as a technology journalist...