The Importance of understanding finance as a CISO

As we all know, the job of a CISO has changed significantly over the past several years. 

The good news is, we wanted more visibility to senior leadership and the board and we got it. The bad news is, we wanted more visibility to senior leadership and the board and we got it!  I believe in many organizations the job has shifted to become much less technical, though you still need strong technical skills, to something more akin to a CIO role where a significant amount of time is spent effectively being a salesperson to the staff, other functions, and senior leaders.  More time is also spent on strategy, budgeting, staffing and governance.

Much of our new job as chief security evangelist or salesperson, if you prefer something less dramatic, is about language translation and simplification.  Simplification is fairly straightforward for most folks with a technology background since it's what we do for the business everyday. Translation, on the other hand is a bit more difficult.  In my opinion, the language of business is largely finance and accounting. At the end of the day, I don't think it matters if you are running a small local ice cream shop or a global, multi-business, conglomerate, you tend to care about the same things; cash flow, revenue, profit/loss, assets and liabilities, projected sales, capital and expenses, etc..

If you can speak the language of finance you will certainly be in a much better position to communicate effectively with you business partners, senior leaders, and board of directors. Translating between security geek-speak and finance isn't that difficult once you understand the language.  Finally, it amazes me when I speak to some of my peers in the industry and ask questions like how does your company make money?  What is your targeted revenue or net profit for the year?  Who are your biggest customers and competitors?  And I get the glossy-eyed look that says I really don't know.

So, if you're not already “conversational” or “fluent” in finance, partner up with your finance department peers or, better yet, sign up for an MBA/EMBA program or at least some basic courses in finance and accounting at your local community college.  Also, work to better understand your business strategy and targets.  The more you comprehend the better you'll be at your new sales and language translation job.

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