Investing in cyber security is difficult by its own nature, but made more challenging due to the healthy tension of different parts of the business pursuing their objectives. Here is a simplified conversation:
Business: We grow the business with new products and processes and rely on IT to make everything secure. Let’s give them money to keep us safe, and the we can all go back to work.
Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): How secure do you want to be? I can design a protocol for different security levels, but it comes with limitations on the customer experience and different costs. By the way, we will never get to 100 percent security.
CFO: We have limited capital, but it is possible to spend an unlimited amount of money on security. Which investments should we choose? What is the value something that does not happen?
For those of us who value investments and opportunities each day, this is a major challenge when calculating the return on investment for IT and security. Not surprisingly, it is a major source of frustration for our colleagues in IT and security who are trying to justify the cost of purchasing hardware and software to protect our systems, tools, and digital ecosystems.
What is the value of something that does not happen?
The problem is that standard calculations to evaluate investments are based on expected cash flow, in the form revenue earned or expenses avoided: ROI, NPV and IRR. Total cost of ownership (TCO) is commonly used for IT investments but is exclusively based on expenses by totaling initial purchase price plus ongoing support. Investments in cybersecurity are difficult to value using these common methodologies, leaving frustration on all sides of the discussion:
Here is one tool to help: ROSI, or return on security investment. Essentially it is a modified ROI calculation, where the net benefit is the cost of security breaches avoided as compared to the prevention cost incurred. Here it is in more detail:
Source: Roadmap to the Future of Finance, Association for Financial Professionals (AFP).
While the formula is simple, gathering good data about theoretical loss is a challenge. This calculation contains many assumptions (as do all business cases), except that the past may be of limited value in assessing emerging threats. This does not degrade the value of the effort, but leads to two implications. First, in the initial efforts to calculation ROSI, the absolute value may be variable as teams fumble through the data collection and gain comfort. This should improve over time.
Second, the greatest value is found in having the conversation. Efforts to quantify security investments provide a format that elevates the conversation beyond, “We need this” and “This is table stakes for being in the business.”
There are both tangible gains and obligations for each party at the discussion: The business sees that security is not a service to be bought and paid for like a subscription, but a series of layered investments that depend on the both external threats as well as the interactions created to engage the markets. The CISO gains a seat at the investment table alongside other decision-makers but needs to explain what level of security is realistic and has to try to quantify risk and opportunities. And finance gets a way to quantify its practices and compare options but needs to dig deep to come up with realistic assumptions. Everyone gets to evaluate their risk appetite by examining the tradeoffs demanded by the business.
Bryan Lapidus is the Director, FP&A Practice at the Association for Financial Professionals. Bryan has more than 20 years of experience in the corporate FP&A and treasury space at organizations like American Express, Fannie Mae and private equity-owned companies. At AFP he is the staff subject matter expert on FP&A, which includes designing content to meet the needs of the profession and helping keep members current on developing topics. Bryan also manages the FP&A Advisory Council that acts as a voice to align AFP with the needs of the profession.
Check out the interactive tool Roadmap to the Future of Finance for more on this topic.