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Managing Career-Threatening Risks

Managing Career-Threatening Risks

Today’s comprehensive rules and regulations mean that any CIO can fall foul of the regulators. So what are the experts’ guidelines on managing career-threatening risks?

When BA completes its inevitable blame-storming meeting over the recent Heathrow fiasco, there will inevitably be some casualties. How many human sacrifices will be offered to the Gods of the Media? Six would be too many, and four not enough. But who will be the Terminal Five, the men and women who pay for the failed systems with their careers?

Not the CEO or the financial directors, according to media pundits. As ex-Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie quipped: “Deputy heads will roll.” In these circumstances, it would be no surprise if executives, including those in IT, carried the can.

Unfair? Yes, but that’s the risk you accept when you assume the high office of information chief. It’s not as if you haven’t been warned. These days, hardly an hour goes by without some publicity-hungry IT supplier issuing an urgent warning to CIOs. Google the term “CIOs warned” and you will find 1500 examples of how the nation’s most senior IT strategists are sleepwalking into a legal minefield.

Consider some of the dire warnings. For example, CIOs could face criminal prosecutions for indecency if they don’t prevent adult content being published on their networks. This is a typical argument made by security software manufacturers in marketing material that lands on your desk and pings into your email inbox.

Before you’ve had time to digest this claim, another sensational message aimed at CIOs will attempt to hijack your consciousness. “CIOs could face extradition to the US, and face jail time in an American penitentiary,” will claim a new briefing from a major consultancy, which warns that if you don’t spend your budget on their report, you may find yourself sharing a cell with an amorous armed robber.

While still reeling from this thought, yet another threat will be released to the nation’s IT chiefs. “CIOs might face extraordinary rendition, and two years of waterboarding torture at the hands of the CIA, if they fail to buy WatchDog’s new antivirus on a stick product,” will be the provocative heading on an invite to a seminar.

Sadly, this is no exaggeration. Only one of the three examples above was made up, although all names have been changed. There really are agencies out there making these hysterical claims in order to shift their products and services.

Life’s too short to take all these risks seriously. Your career is even shorter, and there’s strategic work to be done too. So how do you assess and prioritise your response to all these supposedly fatal compliance and regulatory threats?

The problem is, sometimes they’re right. Legal advisors have told CIO that many of the hyped threats to your freedom are without foundation. But many of them are genuinely threatening. To paraphrase the old maxim about IT marketing: “Half of my marketing threats are true. And half aren’t. If only CIOs knew which.” The IT security advertising industry would love it if you never found out which compliance regulations are worth losing sleep about, and which bossy directives can be safely filed away and forgotten.

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