Digital transformation has been at the top of company pursuits for decades. It’s a long journey with lots of twists and turns. While digitizing operations provides many benefits, from streamlining processes to ensuring consistency, it’s not without challenges. At the top of this list is the inherent, increased cyber risk. Cyber risk and digital transformation can work in harmony toward business objectives, but it requires a strong culture and strategy. Unfortunately, the gap seems to be widening, not shrinking.
As a cybersecurity leader, you no doubt have been wrestling with the complications that digital transformation presents to security. Even with a foundation like DevSecOps in place to navigate digital transformation, you may still see the two components in siloes rather than centralized.
So, what’s the best step forward? Is it tools? People? Processes? Yes to all, with the people aspect being the most significant. It’s time to reevaluate where your organization is in the cyber risk and digital transformation ecosystem.
Let’s look at the challenges and risks, how to solve them, and why technical folks need to evolve their soft skills to close the gap.
The Impact of Digital Transformation on Cyber Risk
No cyber expert would dissuade an organization from digitally transforming. You are fully aware of the advantages it brings related to efficiency, productivity, revenue generation, and cost reduction.
However, digital transformation isn’t one initiative. It’s a set of them that impact every aspect of your company. When looking at it from a cyber angle, vulnerabilities emerge. Those cracks in the surface were fully exposed when digital transformation accelerated at light speed beginning in 2020. Organizations could no longer move at a pace of hesitation; business necessity became the priority.
The threat surface expanded for many reasons, including:
- Remote and hybrid work models enlarged endpoints
- The increased usage of cloud infrastructure
- Implementation of advanced AI technologies
- The enormous amount of big data generated, collected, aggregated, and analyzed
- IoT (Internet of Things) devices
As a result, the threat surface for cyberattacks, data breaches, and other cyber incidents grew. As a cyber professional, your perspective has been to be cautious and thoughtful when deploying new technology. The business side of your organization has been less so. That’s a collision course, and 82% of surveyed technical professionals acknowledged that digital transformation was the cause of a data breach.
Beyond competing priorities, siloed operations, and differing mindsets on security, why are digital transformation and cyber risk not on the same path?
Digital Transformation Involves More Third Parties
Digital transformation requires reliance on third parties in almost every initiative. They are your cloud providers, cybersecurity tools and platforms, tech stacks, automation tools, and more. It’s a lot to manage and can be the Achilles’ heel for any cybersecurity threat assessment.
While you can’t achieve digital transformation without third parties, you can manage the relationships better, starting with initial and continual assessments. To address the third-party risk, you’ll need to:
- Ensure that business leaders making decisions about third-party resources consult with cybersecurity
- Evaluate the risk and security measures of each third party
- Communicate and collaborate with third parties on a cyber risk management program
These tenets are critical but not always easy to manage. It requires both internal and external cooperation. As a result, your cyber team must be more flexible and outside their comfort zones. Without this, you risk the chance of more siloes, less alignment, and greater threats.
Accountability, awareness, and communication are all crucial to third-party risk management. In many cases, these are all vulnerabilities. They illustrate that technical acumen isn’t the defining component of digital transformation and cyber risk. It comes down to being a people problem, which is also the key factor in the next challenge of misalignment between cyber teams and business leaders.
Cyber Teams Don’t Communicate the Risk Accurately to Business Leaders
Most of the C-suite isn’t technically adept. They understand cybersecurity to a degree because they don’t want to expose the business to threats. However, they rarely receive information from technical teams that resonates. It’s not solely their fault; cyber professionals are as well. The biggest reason for the breakdown here is communication and collaboration deficiencies.
Cyber professionals have difficulty explaining cyber risk and the effects of digital transformation. Not because they don’t understand it; they choose to use language exclusive to their bubble of techies. Some of that is just bad practice, but many times it’s the sign of something worse. It’s posturing and deflection from people who long to be the smartest person in the room. They don’t want to be questioned on their knowledge and reserve communication for demands rather than a chance to expound on what’s happening in the risk category.
This misalignment is prevalent, as only 16% of organizations said that IT and lines of business are in sync. If this sounds like an accurate description of your organization, you aren’t alone. Now, it’s time to turn the tide and find solutions to the challenges that digital transformation presents to cybersecurity.
Digital Transformation Sans Cybersecurity Is a Path to Disaster
If you think about what digital transformation is, it’s the development of data and connections. It’s a necessity for driving innovation, accessibility, and insights. It’s a concerted investment of time and money that yields many advantages. The concern is that it also makes organizations more vulnerable to data breaches.
With any new technology, you must assess its opportunities and vulnerability. The approach then needs to be an interwoven cybersecurity strategy with digital transformation. You can only arrive here when everyone is on the same page and practicing communication and collaboration in a healthy and consistent way. When they are lacking, you will be more likely to incur a cyber incident, which can cause monetary and reputational harm.
So, what do you do to avoid disaster? Again, it’s about the people and how well they can adapt and adjust to the new environment. Technical folks aren’t known for these qualities, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist or you can’t develop them. Here’s how.
Applying the Secure Methodology™ to Cyber Risk and Digital Transformation
In most strategies or solutions to cyber risk and digital transformation, the conversation is about technology, processes, workflows, and tools. Those are all important, but people are the biggest problem and solution! Cyber risk and digital transformation can move back into alignment when technical professionals can improve and consistently adopt better soft skills.
In my book, The Smartest Person in the Room, I outline the Secure Methodology. It’s a seven-step guide to transforming cyber teams into aware, accountable, communicative, and collaborative individuals. When this happens, the threat landscape is not as immense and is much more manageable.
Here’s a brief introduction to the seven steps and their association to cyber risk and digital transformation:
First is awareness, which includes of self and others. When awareness isn’t part of the cyberculture, relationships suffer, trust erodes, and communication is aggressive. As a result, perspective is skewed, and blind spots remain hidden. Becoming aware isn’t easy, but it’s essential to digital transformation goals and cybersecurity alignment.
Mindset can either be fixed or growth. The latter is, of course, what you want to foster. When your team has a fixed mindset, they aren’t accountable or agile. These are vital ingredients to digital transformation progress. A fixed mindset can evolve into a growth one with the right coaching and commitment.
Acknowledgment is elusive in cybersecurity, or at least the positive kind. Technical professionals can feel disconnected and unengaged when there isn’t any from leadership. Such a dynamic can lead to digital transformation failures and greater risk. Practicing specific, positive, immediate, and constructive feedback helps the relationships.
Communication is the heart of the Secure Methodology and digital transformation. When communication is stifled, inconsistent, or absent, your organization will falter at every attempt to transform. As noted, communication must be present internally and externally. Technical folks are not the best at it, but they can learn and improve this skill with dedication and the right mindset. They can learn to communicate without jargon and be better listeners.
It’s common to think multitasking is a skill that cyber professionals should embrace, especially in such a fast-paced environment. Digital transformation even leans on this concept. Yet multitasking causes distraction, impacts awareness, and increases errors. Monotasking is the opposite, where the focus is on one action at a time, and it’s critical to digital transformation success.
Empathy has a critical role in the technical world. When it’s absent, you can’t have a team that works together. Instead, the ecosystem is toxic, with large egos and intellectual bullies. If these fester, the risk rises exponentially. It comes down to being a human connection problem, but it’s not insurmountable. You can encourage and foster empathy in your team with various everyday practices and exercises.
The final step is Kaizen, which means continuous improvement and change for the better. The seven steps are their own Kaizen. It’s an ongoing process to grow and change, characteristics found in digital transformation and cybersecurity as well.
Close the Digital Transformation and Cyber Risk Gap with the Secure Methodology
Achieving digital transformation objectives can occur in unity with cybersecurity. They don’t have to compete or run parallel. The Secure Methodology can be your guide to healing the gap by addressing the people problem.