Performing successful risk assessments
During her presentation at the Gartner Security and Risk summit held in Sydney, Gartner Research Director, Anne Robins looked at the difference between successful risk assessments and unsuccessful assessments and what they mean for your business.
Robins told the audience that Gartner has recently conducted two studies looking at risk assessment methodologies and the practical aspects of risk assessments. These covered input from both internal risk managers and contractors who often entered organisations as hired experts.
Looking across the two pieces of research, Robins noted that there were five things that were clear.
Context and process are essential
It's important to have frameworks such as ISO31000 and that the risk assessment processes that are undertaken fit into the context of the organisation. Risk assessment needs to be compatible with the company's culture. Some methodologies, like COBIT, work best in certain sectors such as financial services whereas other methodologies are better suited to other types of businesses.
Start somewhere, then operationalize It
Many organisations look at the task of assessing risk and see it as being too large or complex. Using the analogy or boiling the ocean, Robins made it clear that the best step forward was to choose an area of the business that can be assessed and start there and chip away at the problem rather than being deterred by trying to do everything at once.
An interesting insight was that often the adoption of a methodology was a greater hindrance than execution of the risk assessment.
Robins also told the audience to avoid delivering risk assessments in meaningless (to the business) or arbitrary terms. For example, delivering a risk score such as "72" or "high" was not useful for the business. Instead, the aim should be to present the risk assessment in financial terms as this was the language of the business.
Employ a two-tier approach
Many practitioners employ a triage-style assessment methodology for risk. Robins used the example of how hospitals assess patients using a well-known system to determine which patients required the most urgent care.
This allows the priority to be set, in business terms, before acting.
Find Your Inner Quant
According to Robins, many organisations shy away from using quantitative risk assessment methods as there's a perception that they are too hard to execute or that there is a lack or usable data.
Robins says that there are ways around this. For example, it's possible to discuss with the business a level of accuracy that is acceptable when measuring likelihood and impact. Furthermore, results can be produced in a language that's shared among risk management people outside security and IT.
This is critical as IT risk assessment isn’t isolated - it's part of an organisation-wide risk management program.
When it comes to data, Robins suggested that rather than a lack of data there is an abundance of data. However, it is important to understand the sources of data and to document any assumptions about the data. As assumptions about the sources of the data change it may be likely that the outcomes of assessment needs to be reviewed.
Good Tools Enable Good Practices
Another observation made by Robins from the research conducted by Gartner was that companies that used tools for risk assessment, beyond the use of spreadsheets, had gone the furthest in operationalising quantitative risk assessment.
But those tools need to fit in with the culture and operation of the business. For example, the COBIT 5 methodology is common in the financial services sector whereas OCTAVE might be better for an engineering-focussed organisation.
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