In this blog, we explain why understanding your organization’s relationship to and goals for cybersecurity shapes the reporting structure for your CISO.
The information security challenges an organization faces depend on its unique characteristics. This means there is no universal “right” answer for an organization’s chief information security officer (CISO) reporting structure.
Instead, the specific goals, risk management strategy, and maturity of an organization determine the most effective reporting structure for the CISO. So, without a defined best practice, how do you evaluate who your CISO should report to?
Know Your Current Culture
Understanding your organization’s culture and information security challenges is key to positioning your CISO for success. For example, does your organization grasp that cybersecurity is not only IT’s concern but rather a company-wide responsibility? Are your business leaders collaborative, and do they include the security team in strategic and day-to-day operational discussions?
It is also important to understand how information security interacts with your strategic objectives. If your organization’s current culture views information security as a hindrance or obstacle, having your CISO report to a C-Suite executive could result in biased security decisions.
However, if your organization perceives information security as a crucial component for meeting strategic objectives, having your CISO report to a C-Suite executive may be an effective reporting structure.
Outline Your Information Security Goals
If you know your organization’s information security goals for the next three to five years, it will help you evaluate the best reporting line for your CISO. If your organization expects the CISO to connect information security goals with larger business objectives, place your CISO near the CEO to provide them with the insights and collaboration to help fulfill expectations.
However, suppose your organization relies on the CISO to help business leaders solve everyday issues that align with information security goals. In that case, having the CISO report to the chief information officer (CIO), chief revenue officer (CRO), or chief operating officer (COO) makes more sense.
Define Security Success
While all companies would like to remain incident-free, the world we live in asks when, not if, the next security issue will take place. So, when the next incident occurs, how will you evaluate your CISO’s success? If “success” means that in the event of a security crisis the CISO and their team efficiently manage the incident from an enterprise-wide standpoint, then you need to situate the CISO within a reporting structure that allows them the appropriate authority and influence to do so.
Be Mindful of Timing
If your company struggles to make information security a cultural priority, moving the CISO’s role within your organizational reporting structure may provide a kickstart for change. If you position the CISO higher in your organization, you can signal that information security is a company-wide concern, not only an IT concern. This will spotlight the strong connection between your organization’s strategic goals and information security objectives.
Maybe your company has made information security an organizational priority. Moving the CISO’s position may enable them to meet your information security goals more quickly and effectively. A clear communication plan instills confidence in the CISO’s current performance and conveys the expected benefits of moving the role to instill your organization with renewed energy.
There is no “one size fits all” answer for who your CISO should report to, but a detailed analysis of your culture, information security goals, and definition of security success will empower you to effectively place your CISO within your organization.