Chief information security officers (CISOs) are not only moving their companies to a safer and less risky position in an evermore dangerous digital world, but they are also moving up the company leadership ladder and closer to the chief executive officer (CEO) and the boardroom.
However, once inside the boardroom, there is only one thing a CISO can do: talk. And to do that, he or she must speak the same language as the board members.
Language Is Business in the Boardroom
Some time ago, I met a wonderful teacher as part of a security and leadership course I was taking. He made his point very clear to all of us when he said every IT professional must always remember this sentence: “We serve at the pleasure of the business.”
This is even more true for IT professionals working in security because their actions, work and everyday activity can significantly interfere with the company’s business operations.
Every IT decision has that effect, but choosing the wrong technology or setting things up incorrectly can slow down the system and cause interruptions. In other words, these actions can make the company pay more by violating service-level agreements.
However, a wrong security policy, wrong security decision or even overly strict behavior as the company naysayer can stop the business. This is what resonates in the boardroom since that is what the people in there understand.
Speaking Business as a CISO
Everybody speaks business, from the CEO, chief operating officer and chief financial officer to the other board members. Because of this, it is crucial for the CISO to speak that language, too, if he or she wants to have a stronger voice. This is even more important if he or she wants to be understood by the people who will become peers.
Speaking business is not that hard, after all. CISOs have moved up the company ladder, so they have all the skills necessary to play this role as a bridge between two worlds.
The following are some key points to keep in mind:
- Avoid Technical Information: Board members don’t want to know how something works; they just want to be assured the machine will always be up and running.
- Use Facts and Numbers: Don’t say a policy should be implemented “just because.” Explain the problem (incidents, breaches, leaks) through numbers and facts, and then explain why your solution will help mitigate the risk.
- Think Business: When preparing your slides, talking with security operations employees and analyzing field reports, always correlate that information with the core business of the company.
- Talk Business: When in the boardroom, always refer to how your actions will affect the company’s services. How will your solutions help the business? How will the decisions you’re asking them to make help the machine run more smoothly? Don’t beg for resources. Rather, explain what will happen if they don’t allocate the appropriate budget. Use compliance to leverage the company’s position in front of the outside world.
Are We Shifting Models?
No. Serving at the pleasure of the business is not really a new model to adopt to be a CISO or even a security professional. We all work for a company and receive an appropriate wage. The company makes money by doing things or selling services.
Our mission is to defend the company’s services and products, therefore defending its business. CISOs should keep defending by talking a little business — the company’s common language.