• Cybersecurity grows more complex with the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification. Effective compliance begins with effective leadership. Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock
     Cybersecurity grows more complex with the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification. Effective compliance begins with effective leadership. Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock

CMMC Success Begins with IT Leadership

The Cyber Edge
June 2, 2021
By Chris Souza


Organizations need an all-hands-on-deck approach.


There’s little doubt that thanks to the influx of new government regulations around privacy and data security, requirements have become the primary area of focus for many defense industrial base and General Services Administration contractors.

These companies are now required to become compliant with the relatively new Defense Department mandate known as the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification,  or CMMC for short. Encompassing five increasingly complicated maturity levels, companies are expected to develop and manage a security program that meets these requirements—exponentially increasing the need for compliance expertise from an organization’s cybersecurity partners or existing IT teams. It often becomes painfully clear, however, that many of these professionals do not have the knowledge, the skills or the experience needed to effectively address these demanding maturity levels on their own.

As these compliance requirements become more stringent and complex, the ongoing process of simply managing and maintaining your security program becomes commensurately more complicated and unforgiving. Ensuring the successful development and execution of your compliance strategy and maturity level doesn’t just require you to implement the required technical solutions. It literally requires an all- hands-on-deck approach across your organization, and that absolutely begins right at the top with your current IT leadership.

No two organizations’ needs are alike. Therefore, the duties of your organization’s IT leadership will likely vary depending on the organization, specific compliance requirements and contract agreement terms.

IT leaders need to set the tone, finding ways to offer scalability and flexibility to meet the evolving needs of the organization, all while providing a laser focus on the technical, security and compliance components of each individual role. They need to take a hands-on role in everything, from leveraging existing relationships with other security exports to working directly with vendors and other industry leaders—all in a way that helps the organization perform at its best while meeting these challenging requirements.

Likewise, organizations that employ IT leaders focused on results can help mitigate risk from some of the common areas where these compliance programs fail, with office politics being chief among them. Power players, budget battles and precedents often influence security and compliance decisions, all to the detriment of a positive audit outcome. But by remaining as objective as possible, IT leadership can make decisions void of the biases that all too often negatively impact these types of projects. By focusing on the project and by maintaining a complete picture of what needs to be accomplished, how to accomplish it and what auditors expect, strong IT leaders can show what it truly means to make fact-based decisions in support of security and compliance objectives.

In other words, they can lead by example, and that will then trickle down through the rest of the organization, too.

Again, it’s important to remember that the implementation of the CMMC’s required technical solutions is just one small part of a much larger story. A successful compliance strategy also consists of some major components that need to be simultaneously considered and regularly reviewed, with policy and documentation and process maturity and management being chief among them.

As with any successful project, the first steps of attaining and sustaining CMMC compliance starts with developing a strategy to build the security program, then formalizing it with relevant security documentation and processes, followed by implementation and enforcement, and lastly, managing the processes to make the process repeatable to ensure the program and practices are institutionalized.

By keeping all of this in focus, and by being proactive about ensuring everyone is always on the same page and working together, IT leaders can oversee the compliance process in a way that helps reduce the risk of failing an audit and also avoids losing out on contract opportunities.

But maybe the biggest reason success with the CMMC begins with IT leadership ultimately comes down to the important mentorship role leaders can play as the process moves along. Everyone in an organization will have their own unique role to play in the proceedings, and sometimes it can be difficult for the individual to see how they’re contributing to the collective.

By always paying attention to the bigger picture, IT leaders can help company staff identify their strengths and weaknesses in a way that mitigates risk as much as possible. They can function as true thought leaders, ensuring everyone is performing exactly as needed so that the entire business can make it through the audit unscathed and come out all the better because of it.

With small and medium businesses budgeting an average of 6.9 percent on IT—and anticipated increases to an additional 38 percent on cybersecurity—effective IT leaders can guarantee the best return on technology investments and lead a transformational shift that will better align your IT strategy to your compliance requirements. The one thing to keep in mind is that IT cybersecurity compliance requirements will only become more complicated and are going to apply to your organization at some point whether you want it to or not. What you can control is whether you’re ready for these changes and stable IT leadership at the start of a business is how you do precisely that.

Chris Souza is the CEO of Technical Support International, a Boston-based managed IT Support and Security firm, specializing in supporting SMBs and their IT leadership with CMMC and other compliance-related requirements.

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