CIO, CISO alignment

Alignment and collaboration between chief information officers (CIOs) and chief information security officers (CISOs) is crucial for driving productivity, efficiency and security across organizations.

This partnership provides a single source of truth, minimizes IT and security impacts and ensures visibility into broader transformation initiatives, breaking down silos to create optimal IT and corporate environments.

When the CIO and CISO roles are aligned, there’s a shared understanding and vision regarding the importance of security in all IT decisions.

This leads to IT strategies prioritizing security rather than treating it as an afterthought or a separate concern.

Scott Wheeler, cloud practice lead at Asperitas, explained consistent risk assessment, integrated response plans, cost efficiency and a unified compliance framework are additional benefits of collaboration between the CIO and CISO.

“Closer collaboration between the CIO and CISO can foster a culture of security across all departments, enhancing the effectiveness of security policies and practices throughout the organization,” he said.

When these key roles are aligned, they help present a unified front to the board and other stakeholders, providing clear and consistent communication regarding IT and security matters.

“A CIO and CISO working closely together promotes a strong security culture within the organization, as security becomes a shared responsibility rather than being siloed within a single department,” Wheeler said.

Collaboration and Trust, not Competition

Matt Hillary, CISO at Drata, said by adopting a mindset of collaboration rather than competition, CIOs will be more apt to give CISOs the space they need to effectively lead the company’s security messaging and strategy while making key achievements known.

“Conversely, CISOs may be more likely to defer to the CIO’s expertise around the less security-focused aspects of the company’s IT initiatives,” he said.

At the end of the day, building a healthy relationship requires effort and investment on both sides with less focus on formal reporting structures and more on each leader’s unique ability to make an impact.

Hillary said for effective collaboration between CIOs and CISOs, it’s key that they build strong working relationships and trust.

“This involves recognizing the importance of each role and understanding how their security decisions affect the organization,” he explained. “Leaders should see their roles as complementary and strive for open communication and common objectives.”

He cautioned that without a foundation of trust and integrity, leaders may find themselves working across odds, reducing the efficacy of their efforts and putting their organization at risk.

“By working to establish trust, those same leaders will be more willing to listen to and invest in one other’s ideas, rallying the organization around a united strategy,” he said. “These leaders should have an appreciation for each other’s roles and view their respective focus areas as important.”

By adopting a mindset of collaboration rather than competition, CIOs will be more apt to give CISOs the space they need to effectively lead the company’s security messaging and strategy while making key achievements known.

Jose Seara, CEO and founder at DeNexus, pointed out the government, through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), has been pushing “secure by design” guidelines for organizations.

These encourage adoption of proactive security measures and integration of security considerations into the design and development of systems and products.

Seara noted the recently released NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF 2.0) can be used as an initial model for CIOs and CISOs to align activities starting with the new “govern” step.

“Fostering collaboration between CIOs and CISOs on cyber risk governance can translate into positive engagement of their respective organizations at every level,” he said.

Similar principles should apply to the CIO / CISO dynamic where new technology projects whether they touch IT, cloud computing or industrial environments with connected equipment.

“The goal is to have new systems fully secure as these get developed and deployed,” he said. “It is harder for everybody when security is applied as an afterthought.”

Understanding Assets at Risk

Seara said to develop a thorough understanding of assets at risk – data, systems, connected equipment, OT/ICS environment or others, CISOs and CIOs need to start with an advanced discovery process for existing infrastructure.

“They can simplify this step by having their respective organizations collaborate early on any new IT or OT project,” he said.

Hillary pointed to ISO 27001, an international standard that provides the basis for an information security management system (ISMS).

“This standard can guide both CIOs and CISOs in implementing security that supports business objectives,” he explained. “The domains that are addressed in this standard span the responsibilities for both CISOs and CIOs.”

He added organizations often define the roles of CISOs, CSOs and CIOs and their reporting structures in unique ways, which can sometimes result in overlapping duties and internal misalignment.

“To collaborate effectively and strengthen their security strategies, these leaders must establish clear boundaries for program ownership and build trust-based relationships,” he said.

Playing to Each Other’s Strengths

Hillary said it’s helpful to have CISOs, CSOs and CIOs specialize in the areas they feel most prepared to manage, with each having a voice that is heard and respected within the organization – playing into each leader’s strengths and taking their passion areas into account.

“These leaders need to support and elevate each other’s platforms, promoting open and transparent communication with each other and across the organization,” he said.

Wheeler recommended CIOs and CISOs establish shared goals that align IT and security objectives with the broader business strategy.

“This can involve creating a unified vision where security is seen as an enabler of technological innovation, not a hindrance,” he said.

He explained the CIO often focuses on driving innovation, enhancing operational efficiency and implementing new technologies to support business growth.

Conversely, the CISO prioritizes securing the organization’s data and systems, which can sometimes mean slowing down or adjusting IT initiatives to ensure security.

“The CIO’s focus on implementing new technologies can be balanced with the CISO’s focus on security, allowing the organization to adopt innovative technologies safely and swiftly,” Wheeler said. “This secure approach to innovation supports business agility and competitiveness.”

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