Mitigating the impact of organizational change: a risk assessment

Published: 2012-12-18
Last Updated: 2012-12-18 17:41:52 UTC
by Dan Goldberg (Version: 2)
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It is a well established fact that insiders and employees can be the largest threat to an organizations information security. Management and organizational change and decisions can exacerbate these insider risks and due to poor management introduce new unanticipated threats as well. Organizational change can take many forms such as mergers, relocations, or closing of facilities. 
During these changes risk profiles increase and technical staff who are responsible for managing these risks are often not as focused as they would be during more normal times. This is a situation that management has to recognize and plan for before contemplating change to the organization. Management is not well known for listening to technical staff on these topics.
Movement of a portion of a company when poorly planned and organized can lead to loss of key staff, additional poor planning, and loss if institutional knowledge, and ultimately loss of revenue related to loss of confidence by customers, or damaged customer relations. 
The primary elements to organizational redesign are:
  - Time line
  - Key roles
  - Project plan and milestones
Having a realistic time is the best place to start. Knowing what facilities are required, and where they are required and making sure they are in place when needed will smooth out any change. While not directly related to information security, planning for office moves which involving construction, have to  include time lines for getting permits, and construction delays. Mitigation plans for facilities that are not ready are part of the up front planning as well. When people are relocating this can cause delays as well as a different attention level from staff as they make their own living preparations.
People will show up expecting to do their jobs the way they did prior to a move. Presumably people are either living in a new place, or new to the company. In either case certain processes will take longer due to the newness of location, office space, or integration of new employees.
Identifying key staff roles in advance is critical, this is a task best performed at lower levels, high level managers and owners don't have the visibility of what roles are really critical. Ensuring that continuity of key roles is preserved either the role is filled with either someone relocating or a new staff member with time to onboard and learn the organization before major change takes place reduces risk of significant changes, particularly when that change is within the new staff members department.
This entire process should really start by examining the steps and milestones that need to take place and ensure the amount of time needed for each step is clearly understood prior to embarking on the change path. The old adage that too much change at one time is poor engineering applies to many companies across the board.
To mitigate risks procedures and documentation needs to be maintained at all times rather than in the midst of change. This includes knowing who the key architects for information systems are, and ensuring that those roles are spread across multiple individuals. Planning for change needs to include staff members at all levels to make it successful. Additionally involving staff may even increase the number of staff members who make the transition as an added benefit. 
this is included rather than endorsing any of these articles or companies specifically.
To illustrate this point: I was recently involved in a team which at full strength had 6 engineers and a technical manager. Through normal attrition and a facility relocation, the team was down in strength to 2 members with time in service, and 1 new member. The team was required to maintain a full work load which at full strength required careful management. At this understrength level the team was expected to keep the full work load and relocate a primary datacenter (which had no alternate). The move was expected to take two days and be fully operational on the third. They pulled it off, working for three days straight with many challenges and making compromises in structure and probably security to get it done. Will they remember all the compromises they made and close them in a reasonable time? Will they be motivated to resolve any issues? As a business owner, manager, are you willing to bet your business on that fact?
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