CISOs are entering a golden period of opportunity to take decisive action to shape their security strategy for the future of work, writes Kevin Brown, Managing Director, BT Security.

This is a rare opportunity to drive an agenda that puts security at the heart of every future step. And we know that business leaders are receptive: security has shot up the boardroom agenda, with 58% of business leaders noting improving data and network security as the issue of most importance to the organisation over the past year. More than ever, CISOs are getting involved in decision-making from the outset – and they need to be ready to lead from the front.

A time for decisive action

Organisations are changing how they operate as they begin to get a clearer vision as to what the future of work looks like.

We’re entering the era of hybrid working, where some employees remain homeworkers, others return to the office full time, and a large part of the workforce splits their time between the two. Organisations that want to win people back to the office need to pay close attention to their users’ experience – why should they stop working from home, where they’ve got a steady supply of the coffee of their choice, a comfy sofa for breaks and a good broadband connection? Offices need to play connectivity catch-up if they’re to supply the seamless experience expected for effective collaboration and productivity.

This is an opportunity for organisations to baseline what they have and clear out the skeletons from the closets. It’s not often leaders get the freedom to fundamentally rethink how their business operates. This is a chance to be bold about the infrastructure plans and security investments, to put the organisation in the best possible place to capitalise on growth and tackle any future challenges.

Standing firm against a growing threat landscape

As well as preparing for the future of work, organisations are recognising that the threat landscape is escalating in an ominous way and are looking to do something about it. In recent research we conducted with over 7,000 business executives, employees and consumers, 75% of executives said there are more and more security threats to their organisations every year. So, leaders know they have to be able to react quickly to threats, whilst also building flexibility and elasticity into their infrastructure to see them through at least the next three to four years. And it makes sense to incorporate security from the beginning.

Operating during the pandemic has given organisations renewed confidence that they can make changes at pace, supported by the rise of cloud providers. They’ve realised that agile development is a strong alternative to more traditional and slower waterfall iterative transformation, and they’re seizing the moment.

This is a critical time to rethink how the organisation operates, how leaders want their employees to work, and what they need from their connectivity and security.

Missing this golden opportunity has consequences

I believe that organisations that don’t make strong moves with their security now risk being left behind. It’ll be a lost opportunity to really capitalise on market growth. Users are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their connectivity and this affects operational efficiency. And, as the threat landscape expands, if organisations don’t make rapid changes to their security, their vulnerability to cyber attacks will increase.

Some organisations will be more at risk than others. For instance, a cloud-native organisation is likely already in good shape. But those organisations that evolve their infrastructure and security slowly, tend to have to bolt on security, incurring greater costs in the long run. Ironically, being adventurous and strategic in the first instance can save the organisation money.

The bold decisions to take today

So, where to start? Well, above all I believe CISOs should be ambitious in their decisions, and below I’ve outlined my suggested focus areas:

#1 Put customers and users at the heart of security plans

Explore what will enable them to work in the most productive and secure way, without security causing friction. The idea is to deliver a seamless user experience with invisible security.

#2 Make sure security is embedded in all plans

So many organisations today have a lot of different point solutions, but no overarching strategy. Thinking boldly now could protect the organisation against an escalating threat landscape.

#3 Ensure the business has visibility and control

Data is increasingly flowing in ways that don’t involve the enterprise network, widening the organisation’s risks and decreasing its control. Threat actors are alert to the possibilities these potential new weaknesses bring, so it’s vital to have end-to-end visibility, from the user/device to the application/data.

#4 Embrace automation

Think about how automation can be used as a cost-effective way to take the pressure off security teams so that they can focus on what’s critical.

#5 Look for security partners that can help achieve the business aims

Be clear-sighted about what a co-managed security model could provide and how it could be used to stay ahead of threats. Although organisations can be reluctant to outsource completely, working with a partner on a co-management approach is an effective way to fill any expertise gaps.

CISOs – get involved in early strategy

Traditionally, the CISO hasn’t always been involved in shaping the strategy. However, right now, when security is at the top of the boardroom agenda, CISOs need to be at the heart of the decision-making, shaping and driving a security policy that will protect the organisation as it emerges from the pandemic.

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