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CISOs Spend Too Much Time On Tech, Not Enough On Strategy

Deloitte's CISO Transition Lab finds CISOs spend 77 percent of their time on technical aspects of the job, and is helping them become more strategic.

A chief information security officer (CISO) has four faces, according to the Deloitte CISO Transition Lab: the technologist, the guardian of computing assets, the advisor, and the strategist. Although CISOs would rather devote only 35 percent of their time to the technical aspects of their jobs -- as technologists and guardians --  they're devoting 77 percent of their time to those duties, according to Deloitte. 

Some new chief information security officers hit the ground running. More often, though, they stay mired in old habits,  like focusing too much on technology and tactics or getting tangled in new corporate politics. To address this problem, Deloitte Cyber Risk Services created the CISO Transition Lab last year to get new CISOs on the right track quickly.

The Transition Lab creates one-day training sessions, and each one is customized for just one individual. As Mike Wood, CISO of Integris described it, he went to the event not knowing what to expect. He saw a whole classroom, full of whiteboards, with different stations set up to address different subjects -- all for one student. "All of that was just for me," said Wood.

Mike Wyatt, director of Cyber Risk Services for Deloitte Advisory, explains that before the one-day CISO training, the Deloitte Transition Lab facilitator will spend about six weeks gathering up information. They'll learn about the organization and any particular projects that affect security. They'll talk to all the major stakeholders and discuss their own "hopes and fears for the new CISO," says Wyatt.

"So there's a lot of context building ... The level of candor and specificity we discover is surprising," says Wyatt, but generally, he says, it's because the stakeholders all want the new CISO to succeed.

All this information is used to develop the training program during which the facilitator imparts some information, but also extracts information by asking the CISO some big questions -- about their own role, their strategy, their chemistry with teammates, and more.

"A lot of times they haven't had the time to slow down and think about those types of questions," says Wyatt.

The facilitators help identify what the CISO's challenges are, determine how to proceed differently, and develop a roadmap for the next three to six months.

In its first year, the CISO Transition Lab noticed certain common threads.

"Almost inevitably there is a lot of time being spent on technology," but they need to spend more time enabling the business mission, says Wyatt.

"If you're very technology-focused," says Tim Callahan, CISO of AFLAC, "you're generally going to look at technology as the answer. And it's really not."

Callahan, who says he went into the transition lab with an "'it couldn't hurt' attitude," came out "very impressed," noting that the solutions are in the people and the process, not the technology. He was looking for help in establishing better cross-function governance and designing a strategy that could "absorb the threat of the day."

The goal, says Callahan is to "morph into the visionary leader, not the tactician."

Wood agrees. "[The lab] changed how I approached things. I was still focused on the same tactical things." Now he says, he has broadened his perspective. After the lab he met with other stakeholders in his organization and has made the security strategy better aligned with what the rest of the business is doing.

Both CISOs say that their infosec staff members want to know how their work aligns with the business, and that the companies' increasing awareness of security is helping. Wood says his company, Integris, decided it wants to be "'the most trusted name in healthcare,' and we see that as something we can really align with."

"AFLAC is just a wonderful, wonderful company that cares about its clients," says Callahan. "Keeping information secure and keeping the bad guys out is an extension of our corporate culture."

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