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The CIO’s role in securing cloud environments and simplifying cloud management

The CIO’s role in securing cloud environments and simplifying cloud management

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Ensuring security in the cloud is of paramount importance in today’s modern working world. Ishpreet Singh, Chief Information Officer, Qualys, discusses some of the ways CIOs can create business value through the cloud and also how they need to prioritise simplifying the management of their cloud environments in a way that aligns with the business’ goals.

The role of the Chief Information Officer in the board’s view is, in simple terms, to ‘bring it all together’. To the traditional heads of the C-suite, the role is the driving force of innovation to enable business growth, working cross-functionally to connect each line of the business’ needs and manage the flow of data. There’s also the ‘small’ task of mitigating security risk and meeting the ever-changing regulatory and compliance requirements.

Yet for the CIO themselves, they may only dream that their role was that simple. With continued Digital Transformation efforts hauling businesses into the 21st Century, CIOs are facing the need to manage, connect and secure a constantly moving picture as a tumultuous macro environment leads to ever-evolving internal priorities.

For anyone new to the role and taking their first step into the C-suite lion’s den, it can be overwhelming to know where to start with well-intentioned, yet lofty goals set by your colleagues in the boardroom. The overarching goal for the CIO throughout their tenure should be the constant pursuit of eradicating blind spots to improve visibility. This is a never-ending task, as new cloud services are adopted and the business continues to move and scale at pace.

The increase in multi-cloud adoption has exacerbated the existing challenge for CIOs and CISOs alike to both secure cloud environments while simplifying cloud security. Enter multi-cloud approaches, and it’s nearly impossible to manage effectively. Research found that CIOs’ top five challenges encompass; data privacy and security, cybersecurity and ransomware, the pace of technological change, managed fragmented IT vendor ecosystems and the new technology deployment.  It’s here that you can understand the pressure CIOs are facing.

Where to start

The first step is to establish your baseline by understanding the current landscape of the organisation’s system architecture. This can include the security posture of all of your assets, the cloud footprint, networks and any on-prem solutions. The goal is to get a full and complete picture of everything within the architecture. Without this, any next steps are futile as you can’t secure what you don’t know exists.

It may be tempting during your audit process to start actioning some of the perceived quick wins where there are overlapping or unnecessary tools that no longer seem to serve the business. Still, it’s vital to complete the picture before action is taken to avoid any wrong steps.

The complete picture

Once the audit to establish your baseline is complete, it’s now necessary to compare and contrast these in line with business context. This is where the value of a successful CIO comes to the fore, as the close connection between business technology and business priority is critical yet not often well aligned.

The key elements to consider at this stage are the maturity level per cloud solution, the technical debt incurred over time and how this debt is currently managed. There may also be some preexisting plans to consolidate solutions. It’s safest not to assume those plans are still accurate and instead take a fresh view based on the information you have collated thus far.

Establishing the flow of information

The third step in the process of simplifying the management of your cloud environments is to now go deeper to understand the flow of data around the business and look externally to consider necessary data flow to customers and other stakeholders. Look at access controls and to what degree systems are currently integrated – or not. Most likely, it’ll be the latter. To reach the end goal of simplification, you need to build an end-to-end architecture that can monitor, detect, remediate and measure compliance across the stack. Individual tooling that covers just one part of that will only continue to serve as a headache for the business as the integration of that data with other tools will require more manual heavy lifting.

Create the roadmap

Now that you have complete visibility of system architecture, an understanding of business goals and how the current stack may or may not be aligned with that, and where the gaps, overlaps or bottlenecks may be – the roadmap should begin. This is the stage to plan out how to reduce the organisation’s risk posture over time and recognise that this will be a continuous process. You’ll be operating from a moving picture as the business continues to scale and pivot and introduce new complexities into the environment, so you’ll need to remain focused and yet agile in your pursuit.

The key here is to work with a cloud security platform that enables this 30,000-foot view to take a strategic approach to your systems architecture and continue to do so as the requirements evolve. Once CIOs have visibility, then comes priorities. The chosen cloud security platform will enable the necessary prioritisation, relevant to the business’ specific needs. In light of constantly evolving internal priorities and a tumultuous macro environment, keeping sight of the business context is critical to the success of the CIO’s role. Focus first on maintaining continuity for critical applications and services, and then work out how to build from there.

CIOs need to prioritise simplifying the management of their cloud environments in a way that aligns with the businesses’ goals over time. This undertaking is not just about how the organisation’s cloud infrastructure can support and deliver today’s goals, but they must also consider the goals of tomorrow and plan ahead. Foundational issues can’t be solved through the adoption of the latest and perceived greatest technologies. CIOs must go back to basics if they want to succeed in their effort to enable tangible business value through the cloud.

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