Measuring the health of corporate security

We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes

The last thing any of us need these days is another uninformed discourse on health care, but I tend to wade in where others have the common sense to keep out. I see a measurably effective corporate security organization as a group of risk-management practitioners and first responders engaged in maintaining the health of the businesses we serve.

We evaluate risk profiles, do wellness examinations, prescribe anti-viral medications and other safeguards, and maintain an emergency response capability. In post-op, we (hopefully) learn what attacked a vital element of our entrepreneurial organism and how it did so. To round out the analogy, patients are often tempted to complain about the bill unless our efforts clearly involved brand preservation.

So here we are, deep in the process of building a proactive, multidimensional security program, and we need to focus on best practices. But if we look at the allegedly authoritative lexicon of business risk management, we don't find our role listed. Why not?

Doesn't the term "corporate security" conjure up some thoughts of the enterprise risk-management business? If the allegedly informed lexicon does not incorporate our input into the risk framework, what might be missing from the mahogany row and board-level consideration of risk? Don't we have a stake in enterprise risk-management strategy? If this is the agenda and we aren't on it, how do our business-relevant risk indicators make it into the enterprise health check?

I am going to approach this assuming that we should be on a corporate agenda, one that strives to do the right thing and sees us as integral to fulfilling our obligation to protect our shareholders, our brand and our people. The heart of our mission is our ability to materially impact the risks that the businesses we serve face. So while I'll not claim it's the exclusive measure of company health, I firmly believe that this should be a primary focus of an organizational health check.

A critical measure of our fitness is our ability to influence. Influence is based on trust and confidence. How well we manage the quality and integrity of the treasure trove of data we harvest and utilize throughout our security operations fuels trust and confidence. Providing quality information and reliable counsel sets us a place at the table. We need senior management to engage with the security agenda and factor it into their appetite for risk, to set expectations and hold people accountable. The proof of their trust is them buying the script because they are confident in the competence of the writer.

Our ability to understand the diversity and dynamics of the risk landscape is directly proportional to our capacity to learn; to draw verifiable conclusions that support sound decision making. We enjoy a unique perch with a great view of risky business behaviors and processes. From here, we can catch sight of leading indicators that give early warning of problems and allow us to foresee potential outcomes. This vantage enables prevention and preparedness; developing plans, positioning safeguards, training first responders, establishing fail-over tactics and assuring employees' awareness at the business process level. We are paid to anticipate likely scenarios, given our risk portfolios.

Assuming we sold the business case, we are expected to produce positive results. However, we are measured one incident at a time and, as my CEO often said, "We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes." It boils down to the competence of our response and our ability to learn from experience. What worked and why? What did we discover about exploitable vulnerabilities and process-level execution by accountable parties? What should we conclude when the problems persist after we communicate the nature of the evolving risk and attempt to engage the right people in solutions?

We are an integral part of the enterprise risk management (ERM) framework regardless of how it is structured. However, ERM in many companies can be backward-focused and limited in its scope. Our role in enterprise health requires us to focus on learning; evaluating how well our programs manage risk, resulting in deeper penetration in business risk management.

George Campbell is an emeritus faculty member of the Security Executive Council.

Read more about data protection in CSOonline's Data Protection section.

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