August Touchdown Task: Change Management Audit

This month’s touchdown task is to take a quick audit of your organization’s change management process. Give it a quick walkthrough.

  • Make sure that you are tracking when admins make changes to machine configurations or network device configs
  • Are proper peer review and approval processes being followed?
  • Check to make sure that the proper folks are in the loop for various kinds of communication, error handling and reporting
  • Review risk acceptance for changes and make sure it meets your expected processes
  • Examine a couple of changes and walk them through the entire process to see if things are falling through the cracks
  • Update any change management documentation to reflect new processes or technologies that may be in place now

Give this a quick review this month and you can rest assured for a while that change management is working strongly. With the coming fall and holiday rush ahead, you’ll know you have this base covered and can depend on it as a good foundation for the rest of your security initiatives. 

Until next time, as always, thanks for reading and stay safe out there! 

IT/OT/Business Integration Insights from ComEd

Background:

For several years now I have been working with utility companies, and other critical infrastructure organizations particularly focused on Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and Operations Technology (OT) solutions such as SCADA. During that time, one of the most common issues that our customers and the folks who attend our Security Summit every Fall discuss with us revolves around a lack of communication, engagement and ultimately cooperation between ICS engineers, along with Operations staff and the more traditional enterprise focused IT teams. In many cases, this is often expressed as the number one issue that the organization faces.

 

A few years ago, I began asking around the community who might have a solution to this problem. Several people pointed me in the direction of Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd), the electric utility in Illinois, which led me eventually to a gentleman named Mark Browning. Through a mutual business partner, I asked to be introduced to Mark, and during that introduction, asked  if he would agree to discuss this problem and the methods ComEd has used to tackle it. Thankfully, Mark and his team agreed. What follows is a summary of the information I gathered from several email interviews and time spent with Mark on the phone.

 

A Bit About Mark:

The first thing you should know is that Mark is a seasoned veteran of the ICS and OT world. He has spent an entire career working in IT, Operations Support and other functions in the ComEd utility. He is, by his own admission, an “old school SCADA” guy. Over the years he has moved from designing and implementing ICS and OT systems through the ranks of  OT application support and eventually into a leadership position where he oversees both traditional IT and the OT teams. It is this experience, along with the commitment, passion and wisdom of the entire ComEd team that make them successful at tackling what seems to be such an industry wide problem.

 

A Bit About ComEd and Exelon:

ComEd is an energy delivery company providing electric transmission and distribution services in the northern 3rd of Illinois, including the Chicago metropolitan area. Exelon Corporation is the parent company of ComEd. As part of Information Technology, Mark and his team work for a corporate shared services group, Exelon Business Services Company.  Mark’s Utility Solutions team  is responsible for the successful implementation and management of IT and OT architectures across and throughout the utility lines of business of ComEd. Embedded in the ComEd business to be close to their counterparts, Mark and his team are directly focused on the success of the business and on providing support to each of those business lines of his customers. This client focused business model is one of the things that Mark credits with keeping his team actively engaged with his business partners and not just supporting requests – thus truly empowering each of the lines of business.

 

This organizational design creates a system of centralized leadership for IT and OT technologies. Acting as a centralized technology group, Utility Solutions is responsible for service levels across all business functions. By design, this creates a direct chain of responsibility to each of the lines of business, and makes technology success fully dependent on the success of each line of business. Mark says this level of integration fully supports solving the lack of engagement problem.

 

How Does It Work at ComEd?:

Mark and his team shared that the strength of engagement between the IT and Business teams stems from a program created more than 10 years ago. They call it the “client engagement model”. Basically, it is a process of fully embedding IT alongside the lines of business. While IT and the Business perform their respective roles, they also collaborate heavily to achieve common objectives. This has created an atmosphere of respect and trust between groups who are comfortable with the shared vision of business goals and an open architecture roadmap to support those goals both short and long-term.

 

In order to cement and maintain that trust between the lines of business and the technology teams, all projects require co-sponsorship and co-leadership. Representatives work directly with their embedded team members in order to create, lead, implement and manage the projects required to build each line of business. Mark’s team members emphatically shared, via a variety of emails, how much easier it makes the job of doing IT well using this approach. They raved about their relationships with the lines of business, with their business focused teammates and with the upper management and leadership of their organization. In particular, many of them commented on how refreshing it was to get to see the technology products that they created actually in use in the business and serving the needs of the end users.

 

It should be noted that such trust between technology teams and lines of business would be nearly impossible to build were it not for a laser-like focus on business problems. Team members with strong technical skills must interface directly with business team members who have strong organizational and communication skills. The problems of the business must be clearly and concisely expressed between the teams and there must be full integration between technology teams and the lines of business. Mark credits much of the success of this program with the embedded nature, that is putting IT and OT people directly in everyday contact with their business partners focused on each line of business.

 

What Can You Do?:

I asked Mark what lessons could be learned from the ComEd approach. In order to help other folks who might not have 10 years of  inertia behind them, I asked Mark what are the key things he would do to apply a similar program to a new organization just beginning to tackle this problem. Mark shared with me the following four key undertakings:

  • Immediately and fully embed and co-locate the IT staff with the business staff members . Ensure that all projects begin to be co-led by a member of the IT team and the business team. Make both of the teams directly responsible for the success of projects.
  • Increase cross training and shared knowledge between the two groups who are now embedded together. Make sure that you are hiring great leaders, and where possible, hire from within the lines of business. Consider functional swaps, where traditional IT staff members temporarily swap positions with business team members. This system of functional swaps often leads to rapid cross communication and knowledge sharing between teams on both a functional and personal level.
  • Hammer home the idea of customer facing trust and co-working communications. Active engagement must occur at all levels for maximum success.  From VP to individual contributor, the IT and business teams must challenge their counterparts by being both advocates and challengers.  Include a shared mission message along the lines of “we must work together because our customers expect us to do so”. Make this mantra a part of everyday life for all team members.
  • Greatly increase the amount of coaching and management level engagement across the now embedded teams. Especially engage in ongoing training for technical team members to see, feel and engage in business operations. Encourage opportunities for the business to directly demonstrate how technology products support both the business and the customer. Clearly demonstrate the benefits to both teams of working together to provide value to the customer.

 

The Payoff:

Lastly, I asked Mark about the payoff for organizations who successfully increase the cooperation and engagement of their IT and business teams. Mark and I both agreed that as the convergence between information technologies and utility delivery mechanisms increase, so too does the importance of integrating these teams.  Essentially, Mark believes that IT has quite a bit to bring to the table.  “IT will become the engine of the utility.”, says Mark. While we both  agree that security remains a risk that we are carrying, convergence and automation will create a unique opportunity to work together to protect and support both the goals of the business,  the desires of the customer and the public at large. With technologies like smart grid on the horizon, those organizations that can effectively conquer the problem of IT and business engagement will be the leaders for the utility markets of the future.

 

Thanks:

I would like to thank Mark and the teams at both ComEd and Exelon for their willingness to discuss their program and to help others with one of the biggest problems many organizations face today. I hope you enjoyed learning from their experiences, and both Mark and I hope that it helps your organization. As always, thanks for reading and until next time, stay safe out there!

April Virtual Event MP3 Available – Selling Security to Upper Management

We are pleased to announce the availability of the MP3 from last month’s virtual event that covered the selling of security to upper management.

We got great feedback on the event and plan to continue our monthly virtual presentations. If there are topics you would like to see us cover or want us to dig into, please drop us a line or comment.

The slides for this presentation are available here.

The MP3 is available here.

Thanks again for spending time with us. We really love working with each and every one of you!

Security Team Leadership Matters

Leading a team of security technicians can be a tough job, but in most corporations the manager of the team must also be an evangelist. The task of leading a security team often requires that the leader have a vision of the goals of the team and is capable of “selling” that vision both to upper management and the user base of the entire organization. Since many teams are led by technicians who have ascended through the ranks, they often have limited understanding of management needs and marketing approaches.

If you are such a security manager, here are a few tips to help you get started. The first one is a quick list of required reading. Leading the team means being a management consultant and an evangelist. To help strengthen or develop these skills, check out a couple of these titles:

The Macintosh Way by Guy Kawasaki – this is the Bible of evangelism from one of the greatest evangelists of the silicon age

The Idea Virus by Seth Godin – this book’s insight is the basis for viral marketing and can be a powerful tool for selling ideas inside of an organization, all of Seth’s work is great and could be helpful

A book about corporate structure and management goals – these are easy to come by and can vary by industry and organization type but a quick Amazon.com search is likely to reveal several that fit the needs

It is essential and critical that security team managers and leaders come up to speed on the needs and goals of management. It should be an immediate goal to learn the style and language of your management team. Only when you can act as a liaison and converse with them on their own terms can you begin the process of “selling” them on the security plan and process. Only when you understand them and have earned their trust can you begin to align security operations with the various lines of business and move further towards adding perceived value to their bottom line.