Time to Trade in Geek Speak for Business Lingo
Our eSecurityPlanet columnist Ken van Wyk says if you're talking tech to your boss, you might as well be speaking Elvish. To get things done, you need to learn biz speak.
But instead of congratulating us on our dedication, the boss looks at us as though we're speaking some freaky language... Klingon or Elvish, perhaps...
The problem is that we might just as well be speaking Elvish, because to the business people of the world -- and I'm lumping the boss into that group -- ''geek speak'' is indistinguishable from Elvish.
The bottom line is that we explained the problem in technological terms so we lost our battle before it ever began.
In this hypothetical situation, you might say, ''One of our IDS sensors just picked up a possible SQL worm hitting our server farm on the DMZ.'' Your boss hears, ''One of the flayrods is out of skew on the treddle again.''
We've failed to answer the most important question: So what?
We've erroneously believed that our job was to protect the computer and network systems, when, in fact, our job is to protect the business data and business processes that reside on the computer and network systems. There lies our failure and our path to success.
I see two possible ways out of this problem. We could teach the boss to speak Elvish (or geek speak, but getting the boss to speak Elvish would be way more fun), or we could learn to talk''biz speak''. I think we're far more likely to succeed at the latter than the former.
We have to learn to put business issues into business terms so the business people can make the important business decisions. Yes, it is that important.
When we think that we're explaining the heart of the problem by describing the technical situation, we're actually obfuscating the pertinent details to the business decision makers. That doesn't help our cause and it doesn't help the decision makers to make their decisions. Of course, they are going to turn down our request for resources!
Incidentally, I've been using the ''we'' term throughout this piece because I see this mistake repeatedly throughout the IT Security world. I expect it's even more pervasive than that.
A wise former boss of mine once convinced me to start collecting incident data in terms of what the U.S. Deptartment of Defense calls ''mission impact''. After a lot of pain and errors, we managed to start doing just that. Lo and behold, our incident reports started getting noticed by the senior-most decision makers at the Pentagon. It had worked.
This may all sound simple to you, but I assure you it's not simple and it indeed takes significant practice to perfect. Even then, you'll still find yourself making temporary lapses into geek speak when talking to the boss. So, I've put together a few tips to keep in mind:
So, following these pointers, we might see something like this.
Original: ''One of our IDS sensors just picked up a possible SQL worm hitting our server farm on the DMZ.''
Improved: ''Our customer database is under attack from a worm on the Internet. I've verified that the worm is a significant threat and that our customer data could become stolen or altered without our authorization if the worm hits our systems. I recommend we get IT to test and install a software patch ahead of their normal monthly schedule.''
That sounds a lot better than ''One of the flayrods is out of skew on the treddle again'', don't you think?
Kenneth van Wyk, a 19-year veteran of IT security, is the prinicpal consultant for KRvW Associates, LLC. The co-author of two security-related books, he has worked at CERT, as well as at the U.S. Department of Defense.