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Kevin West
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5 Things CISOs Can Learn From The Best GMs In Baseball

A MLB team has many goals and objectives: to win, be profitable, have a solid strategy and understand the people whom they serve. Sound familiar?

I live and work in Boston, and as you have probably heard, we have a lot of snow here. One of my coping mechanisms as I await warmer weather is thinking about baseball season. To get in the mood, I have been reading Moneyball, the book about Billy Beane’s success putting together competitive teams. There is something so rewarding about building a successful organization – one that wins consistently and performs at the highest level. It occurred to me, there are a lot of similarities between a successful baseball GM and a successful Chief Information Security Officer.

Photo of Fenway Park in Boston Feb. 10 by @EricLuallen
Photo of Fenway Park in Boston Feb. 10 by @EricLuallen

A MLB team has several goals and objectives, both short- and long-term. One goal is to win. The team also must be profitable. They have to have a strong strategy to accomplish both. They have to know their revenue, and revenue potential. They have to understand the expectations of their fan base. Does this list look familiar? Chances are these are some of the same drivers for your information security team.

A baseball GM must understand the overall goals and objectives of ownership, and also must be extremely savvy and smart about putting together the right team. When it comes to corporate IT security you need to act like a GM to create a confident program.

What makes Billy Beane, Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman great? They each take their own approach to their work, but they all do the following:

  • Prioritizes efforts based on the owner’s goals. If the team ownership has a goal to be below the salary cap while maintaining a competitive team, a GM will combine proven, experienced talent with training and resources grown in the farm system. In security this approach is required of nearly every organization. As new threats emerge, both veterans and younger staff members need to keep pace.
  • Understand the marketplace and threats. A GM always has one eye on what his competitors are doing, and what trades are available on the market. Similarly a CISO must ensure that the organization keeps pace with advancements in the market, evolves as threats become more sophisticated and changes over time to ensure on-going performance.
  • Keep the fans engaged and happy. Ticket sales, ad revenue, and television deals all depend on fan loyalty, so GMs have to assemble a product fans deem worthy of their hearts, time, and money. This is a team that wins, and does so consistently. Similarly, effective security programs must engender respect and adherence from employees and provides customers with peace of mind and confidence.
  • Understand opportunities and challenges specific to the organization. Oakland Coliseum, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium all require a unique skill set. A poor-fielding slugger is best-suited for the Designated Hitter position in the American League. Every player will perform best in a specific environment. A strong GM leverages all the tools available to him – analytics, salary, on base percentage, medical histories – to put the best team on the field. A smart security program leverages the right team members, specific policies, and the strength of different technologies to create the most effective program for that specific organization.
  • Provides the team manager with the right resources. The GM has a big role in hiring the team manager. The manager’s role is to make day-to-day tactical decisions: who pitches, when to bunt, who to play in Right. He makes all of these decisions based on a combination of instinct and analysis of historical performance. A security manager will leverage technology, threat reports and policy to best position the company to avoid attack, reduce risk and perform effectively.

So what can we learn from the best GMs in baseball? You will always be more successful with a plan that aligns your security team with the strategic objectives of the organization. If you are working from a plan you will be more likely to have the right resources on your team, and the right technology and procedures in place to succeed.

Kevin West is the chief executive and founder of K logix, where he oversees a team of data security experts who help customers build confident data security programs. View Full Bio

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Marilyn Cohodas
Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
3/10/2015 | 4:36:35 PM
Re: Keep the Fans Happy
Good point @RyanSepe. But who are the "fans" in information security? Users? Emplyoees? Seems like there are constituencies like business units, management, customers...
User Rank: Ninja
3/10/2015 | 10:40:21 AM
Keep the Fans Happy
From my perspective, this is one of the most crucial. I have seen situations where the "fans" aren't happy and it makes it very difficult to incorporate any type of security mechanism due to the pushback. This is why I stress test, test, test before unveiling anything into production. If you don't and happen to run into issues the security team will be fighting uphill battles from then on. This principle is very much like brand reputation.
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