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Secrets of a Highly Productive CIO-CISO Relationship

The dynamic between CIOs and CISOs has evolved along with the technology. How can they ensure they're on the same page while driving value?

The ever-changing dynamic between the CIO and CISO is subject to several factors: personality differences, new technologies, length of time working together, and communication between the business and IT teams.

For a duo in charge with keeping the organization connected, productive, and secure, a strong relationship is crucial. How can they build and maintain one as organizations adapt to the future of tech?

Over the past five years, cybersecurity has gained "significant visibility," says Jason Clark, general partner at SixThirty Ventures and chairman of the Security Advisory Alliance. "It's part of the discussion, part of news every day," he says. "That itself has shifted the nature of the relationship."

Five years ago, he says, CIOs often didn't know how CISOs were doing their jobs. The CIO had more of an operational role in running the organization. The CISO questioned their decisions, telling them what not to do. This put stress on the CIO and led to a poor working relationship.

"There was a lot more contention between the various IT groups, business, and security, because security viewed everything as a risk," Clark explains.

Over the years, the CISO's role has matured, he continues. Now, instead of solely focusing on stopping security threats and cybercriminals, he or she also act as a business leader. The position has evolved to include the landscape of the entire organization, which has affected the CISO's relationship with the CIO.

How can CIOs and CISOs build an optimal working relationship? Steve Hassell, former president of Emerson Network Power and global CIO of Emerson, advises setting metrics for success, and using absolute data that can be measured. Both leaders are held accountable for these metrics, giving them incentive to productively work together and achieve them.

Clark agrees, emphasizing the importance of being aligned on business outcomes and driving value with people, processes, and technology. He also advises ensuring all business and IT pros are speaking the same language when discussing problems and solutions to avoid frustration.

Healthy Tension

There is still tension between the two, Hassell says, but it's a key part of this dynamic. The CIO and CISO don't need to agree on everything. In fact, it's better if they don't.

"Almost every good thing that happens in business is due to tension," he says.

Tension can be healthy. When the CIO and CISO disagree on a decision, the solution is usually somewhere in between. This opens up a conversation about different routes to take and ultimately creates value for the business as the two sides find a balance.

[Hear Clark and Hassell give tips on how to improve the CIO-CISO relationship during their session at Interop ITX on Wednesday, May 17, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. To learn more about other Interop Security tracks, or to register, visit the live links.]

Ultimately, says Hassell, a strong relationship is built on respect. The CIO and CISO must realize they will often view situations from different perspectives. If each is stubborn to prove they are right, they'll never work well together.

Handling New Tech

CIO and CISO teams will face many major choices as their organizations introduce cloud services, mobile, IoT, and other new technologies the IT team doesn't always control.

Clark explains how cloud technology, in particular, is drastically changing the environment. Security teams have bought several different technologies. Businesses invest millions of dollars, and months of time, to deploy them.

Today, the cloud enables the same teams to get the same product and deploy it globally, fully scalable, at a lower cost because they only pay for what they use. All of a sudden, their four- to six-month integration period is cut down to 15 minutes.

"[Cloud] is going to change the way that everyone think about these services," he predicts. "It could drive CISOs out of operations and more into strategy and risk, where they become more of a risk officer."

The "bulk innovation of technology" could have an interesting effect on the CIO position, says Hassell. He expects it may grow into a broader business role because the CIO will be responsible for mediating technology across the organization. In some cases, the CEO could become the CIO.

"Increasingly, the requirements of the CEO are becoming harder because the job is getting so broad," he says.

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Kelly Sheridan is Associate Editor at Dark Reading. She started her career in business tech journalism at Insurance & Technology and most recently reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft and business IT. Sheridan earned her BA at Villanova University. View Full Bio

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