Cio vs cso

CIO vs. CSO vs. CISO – How Are These Roles Evolving?

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Since the need for effective cybersecurity is greater than ever, “CIO vs. CSO vs. CISO” should actually become “CIO, CSO, and CISO” – that is, they should be allies, not adversaries.

However, in some organizations, the CIO, the CSO, and the CISO have the same level of authority. This can set up a relationship where both are competing for the same resources or have competing agendas.


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Naturally, this type of dynamic is counterproductive and can be detrimental to an organization’s cybersecurity efforts.

Below, we’ll cover this relationship in detail and learn how organizations can maintain healthy cyber defenses in the coming years.

Roles and Responsibilities of CIOs, CISOs, and CSOs: A Quick Overview

For those unfamiliar with these roles, let’s go over the responsibilities of each:

  • CIOs, or Chief Information Officers, oversee an organization’s IT program. In many organizations, the CIO is the foremost IT leader. They often report directly to CEOs or, in some cases, the board. They are responsible for tasks such as strategic IT investments, leading digital transformation programs, managing IT operations, and more.
  • CISOs, or Chief Information Security Officers, supervise a company’s cybersecurity. CISOs are responsible for tasks such as designing and implementing an organization’s security program, working with outside security vendors, training employees on security practices, and so forth.
  • CSOs, or Chief Security Officers, are responsible for securing people, products, and processes. In some organizations, the term “CSO” is used instead of “CISO” and the CSO is given oversight over cybersecurity policies. In other organizations, CSOs handle a particular aspect of security, such as physical security.

It should be noted that these responsibilities are not always clear-cut and they can vary widely from business to business. Also, over time, these roles will likely evolve as we move forward into the digital-first future.

CIO vs. CSO vs. CISO – How Are These Roles Evolving in the Digital Era?

IT is becoming more and more important in the modern business world. The more digital the world becomes, the more central the role of IT. Digital innovation, for instance, creates new forms of value, differentiates brands from their competitors, and disrupts entire markets.

Another consequence of this pervasive disruption is that organizational structures and priorities are also rapidly changing. These shifts are also impacting the roles of the CIO and security executives.

Here are a few points to bear in mind about these two roles in the digital era:

Reporting structures vary widely from organization to organization

According to research from IDG, CISOs and CSOs are becoming more common with every passing year. Between 2018 and 2019, for instance, there was a 6% increase in the number of organizations with a CISO position. 

Yet reporting structures vary from business to business. In their survey, for example:

  • 47% of CISOs reported to CIOs
  • 18% of CISOs reported to CEOs
  • 43% of CSOs reported to CEOs
  • 30% of CSOs reported to CIOs

In organizations where security professionals report to CIOs, the command structure is relatively straightforward.

However, as mentioned, when CIOs and CISOs are both responsible for cybersecurity, there can be disagreements over security issues.

CIOs and CISOs should work together to build a cohesive security plan

Regardless of the organization’s reporting structure, it is important that CIOs, CISOs, and CSOs collaborate efficiently.

Although differing perspectives over security issues can be valuable for generating ideas, it can also be unproductive if these officers disagree too frequently, if they compete for funding, or if their duties overlap.

To minimize such issues:

  • Responsibilities should not overlap
  • Reporting structures should be clear
  • IT leaders should collaborate with each other as well as with CEOs and the board

Given the stakes associated with effective security, it is crucial that these leaders work together to develop and implement a security plan.

In the coming years, this will become even more crucial, since the security landscape is continuing to evolve.

Cybersecurity investments are growing as the threat landscape evolves

The more digital the world becomes, the more vulnerable companies are to cyber threats, which is why digital transformation and security should go hand-in-hand. 

For instance, 2020 saw an uptick in the number of cyber attacks, an increase that was blamed on factors such as COVID-19 and remote working.

In 2021 and beyond, therefore, cybersecurity will evolve and many organizations will bolster their defenses. 

Since the increase in hiring CISOs and CSOs has been ongoing for several years, we can expect this trend to continue – especially in light of the new vulnerabilities opened up by trends such as telecommuting.

Final Thoughts: What Is the Best IT Reporting Structure?

A clear-cut reporting structure is crucial for any organization to operate effectively and harmoniously. When duties, responsibilities, and resource allocation are ambiguous, after all, there will be more friction – and, as a result, more chances for problems.

In many cases, as we have seen, security leaders report to CIOs, who then report to CEOs.

In others, CISOs report to CEOs or, in even fewer cases, to the board.

Some have argued, however, that CIOs should report to CISOs, since security is of paramount importance.

Naturally, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this issue.

What business leaders should instead pay attention to is how the digital landscape is evolving and what reporting structure they can implement to maximize cooperation and performance.

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