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26 Jun 2013

SMotW #63: infosec budget variance

Security Metric of the Week #63: information security budget variance

This is, self-evidently, a financial  information security metric but what exactly is "Information security budget variance"?  Now there's the rub.

You might interpret it as a measure of the discrepancy between budgeted, permitted, authorized or allocated funds for information security and actual expenditure.  The illustrative graph above is a view of Acme Enterprise's information security budget variance on this basis over the course of a year, showing actual relative to predicted security expenditure (the zero dollar horizontal axis representing the budgeted spend).  Things are looking pretty grim for the first quarter but gradually improve as (presumably) firm action is taken to correct the overspend.  It looks as if there might even be a small surplus at the end of the year, perhaps enough to afford some discretionary expenditure such as a boost to the security awareness and training budget, or maybe a management away-day to work on the organization's security metrics!  This is an example of a management metric that would be valued by the CISO or Information Security Manager, and may be of some concern to higher and lower strata.

Alternatively, you might believe it refers to changes in the information security budget from year to year.  For example, a budget that has remained static for years, despite the ever-increasing number and severity of security incidents plus a growing burden of regulatory compliance, might be used to justify a significant increase in the security budget next year.  This would be a strategic metric with a comparatively long timeline, of greatest interest to senior/executive management, the CISO and the CFO.

Acme managers might use the PRAGMATIC scores for these two quite different metrics to assess their worth and decide whether to use neither, either or both of them, depending on what other metrics options are on the table.  No doubt in the course of considering the PRAGMATIC ratings, Acme management would think of possible drawbacks or issues (such as the practical difficulty of accurately measuring the total organization-wide expenditure on information security, which far exceeds the Information Security Management Department's budget) and perhaps come up with refinements (such as consider the benefits as well as the costs) to improve their scores.

At a more basic level, different Acme managers might unknowingly start out with distinct perspectives and objectives for the metric titled "Information security budget variance", differences that would come to a head almost as soon as the PRAGMATIC process kicked-off.  Better now than later when "Information security budget variance" lands up in some management report somewhere, and the recipients interpret the metric in radically different ways, without even appreciating that their interpretations differ!

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