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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – The Global S.T.A.R. Conference on Tuesday at the Embassy Suites in Cary provided enough inspiration for 10 blog posts. The presentations were dynamic and relevant to some interesting times that currently exist in our world.
One of the many motivating presentations was supplied by Theresa Payton, president and CEO of Charlotte-based Tripwire, LLC, and former White House Chief Information Officer. Payton and co-presenter Lee Zeichner, founder and president of Zeichner Risk Analytics and author of Cyber Security & Corporate Liability, focused on executive engagement, innovation and lessons learned.
The talk posed some interesting questions that sparked dialogue that filtered into the hallways. I had a chance to sit down with the pair after the presentation to go more in-depth on the topics they discussed.
First of all, Theresa, what is like working in the White House?
Well, I did the opposite of most of the speakers here today who worked in the public sector and moved into the private sector. I started my career in the private sector and moved into the public sector, so it was a very interesting move. Honestly, though, I found myself working in an environment with some of the most patriotic and brilliant people in the world. Everyone was so supportive and understanding, and it really was an honor to be a part of what was going on.
As a former CIO, what are some of the challenges you see?
In my former banking career, I found that providing information to customers was king, 24x7x365 without intervention. So going into my role at the White House, it obviously was much different because we had to provide the information around the clock but also provide a heightened level of security to protect the overall mission. But, as a CIO with any organization, I find that leveraging technology is only one of the many challenges. You have to be mindful of your language and talk in business terms, not like the Charlie Brown adult (wa wa wa). You need to ditch the PowerPoint slides, have real conversations with your executive management team, make them feel comfortable with the information you’re sharing, and be respectful of their time and information absorption. It can be difficult.
Interesting, can you elaborate more on presenting information to executives?
You really must have face-to-face, short discussions – whether you’re in the private or public sector. You need to leave all the techie talk back at the office and have a real conversation. Make sure you highlight your points for them in summary terms; this is what the mission is, this is what I believe you’re trying to accomplish on a daily basis, and here’s where I’m struggling to be able to protect you so you can get your job done. As soon as you start doing PowerPoint slides, memos and manuals, executives, even with the best intentions, just do not have the time to absorb every single threat or vulnerability that is out there. You have to respect their schedule and their other duties.
When it comes to technology security, how do you justify investments with decision makers?
That’s an excellent question. Most of us here will tell you the same thing; it’s hard to justify spending for something that hopefully won’t happen. It’s pretty simple. The reality is people are going to get into your systems and you have to design around that. The argument is to show how real the threats are and to prepare your organization as best as possible. In the event, something does happen, having the proper "clean- up" methods also is critical to restoring confidence and business continuity. It’s a tough conversation to have, but when I think about this, I think about Yoda from Star Wars – "Do or do not, there is no try."
What are some of the greatest challenges currently facing our country’s economic security?
Two things really stick out to me. First of all, the current regulatory environment poses a challenge. We really do have a lot of regulations on the books, and I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best and brightest in this area. But, some of the instruments being used are so sophisticated today, and many bright people coming out of school are going to work in the private sector because of the money they can make. Unless we can provide incentives so that more people choose the oversight and regulatory side of the public sector, we may create gaps in expertise that can pose challenges in enforcing regulations and oversight. Until we find a way to appeal to the patriotic sense of duty to incent additional people, we are going to run into problems. And the other piece regards information security. The basics are just not enough. There’s a pay to play such as purchasing hardware, software, and installing firewalls that everyone needs to do. The bad guys know this too and will find ways to work around what is in place. This is where the executive engagement and the innovation come into play.
Lee, anything you would like to add?
Well, since being here today, one thing that seems to be hit over and over again is the problems we have at looking at long-term technology. And, I don’t really mean the hardware/software aspects. I really mean getting experts together to work out complex problems. It’s a social networking issue. It’s a trust issue. It’s a leadership issue. How do we rethink where we are? Most of us are doing on-the-job training, and it’s difficult to look 10 years out with what is on our plates today. It’s a challenging chasm to find those who work on this stuff on a daily basis and those who have the insight to think 10 years out to find the time to sit down at the table together. If we had this discussion 10 years ago, it would be a totally different dialogue.
So, you’re saying it’s going to take more than just collaboration?
Yes, I think so. There needs to be skin in the game. The idea behind creating this situation is to ensure that technology is managed by like-minded individuals who share a stake. Collaboration here is more about enabling productivity. When people think about collaboration, many of us think that we are all going to get along. What I’m saying is that you could hate the other partner and still work together in a joint venture for a common purpose. I think we’re getting to this second model now because we are getting more honest about our needs. This is relevant to both corporations and governments, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Interesting, indeed. Theresa and Lee, thank you for sharing your time with me.
You’re welcome. (Theresa adds) You know, someone with talent, time, money and motivation, really can do some innovative work in this space right now and make a difference. It is an interesting time we live in.