C-Suite Falls Short on Transformation Talent and ‘Whaling’ Attacks

Hacker in large warehouse
Reports released in the past two days highlight C-Suite vulnerability when it comes to affirmative action on digital transformation and their gullibility over new, targeted cyberattacks.

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Arguably, the more serious concern is the finding that the most senior executives are susceptible to cybercriminals’ sophisticated efforts to dupe them in a new wave of ‘whaling’. Whaling is a form of spear-phishing attack that targets high-net-worth individuals in scams with huge sums at stake: one MD recently approved a £30m payment in a single incident.

This new form of cyberattack exposes the naivety of some senior executives, who are hoodwinked into authorising online payments to scammers posing as employees or legitimate suppliers. Louie Augarde, cybersecurity specialist at Omni Cyber Security, warns, “It’s extremely important for C-level employees to sit up and listen. The FBI recently lost 20,000 records from someone calling the help desk and pretending to be a new employee. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone.”

Andrew Barrett, managing director at cyberrisk management firm Coal Fire Systems, has seen first-hand just how devastating these attacks can be and notes they are often enabled by catastrophic human error. “I’ve seen attacks in which cyberthieves call up payroll departments pretending to be a C-level employee and say they want to change their sort code and account details. The effects can be devastating.”

With over 8,000 phishing attacks occurring every month in 2016, Lawrence Jones, CEO of cloud and colocation firm UKFast, believes it’s essential, now more than ever, for companies to step up their cybersecurity game. “We look after nearly 6,000 businesses online and we are seeing this kind of confidence trick working with alarming regularity.” All these comments were made at a round table event held by UKFast.

A second survey, this time from learning specialist Avado, highlights another C-Suite shortcoming, this time in skills investment for transformation. Over half (55%) of learning and development (L&D) leaders at Britain’s biggest firms believe C-Suite executives only pay lip service to transformation. It’s a serious accusation, as it’s widely acknowledged that only sponsorship from the very top can drive through comprehensive change and see off disruption.

Among the complaints revealed by the report is the inadequate amount (19%) of overall training budgets spent on digital upskilling. While 81% of respondents have a digital learning programme in place, investment in digital skills isn’t being shared equally across the business. For over 40% of companies, the lion’s share is allocated to the sales and marketing department.

Delivering effective learning outcomes that are measurable is a further concern for L&D leaders. Over a fifth (22%) of respondents reported that digital training undertaken to date hasn’t delivered tangible and measurable ROI. A quarter of L&D managers say their organisation doesn’t benchmark their skill levels and almost a fifth (18%) report low levels of employee engagement in their training programmes. Just a quarter (26%) of firms incorporate digital literacy into staff performance reviews.

Lisa Barrett, managing director at Avado comments: “We’ve learned that for businesses to really grasp the digital opportunity, it takes serious commitment from leadership and the right levels of investment in the right kinds of training programmes – ones that deliver business impact. Put simply, companies need to take their whole organisation on a learning journey. And for the ones that get this right, the results can be transformational.”

Digital talent shortfall

  • 86% of Britain’s biggest businesses have assessed their risk of digital disruption, with the majority putting a C-Suite executive in charge of driving digital change.
  • But, over half (55%) of L&D professionals believe C-Suite executives only pay lip service to transformation.
  • A lack of boardroom commitment is having an impact on a quarter of L&D professionals, who feel powerless to influence change.  
  • Less than three in 10 firms (28%) invest in digital learning across the entire business.
  • A quarter (25%) of companies fail to benchmark and measure the impact of digital training programmes and almost a fifth (18%) report low levels of employee engagement in these programmes.
  • Industry sectors ranked by digital readiness, with energy and utilities the least prepared.

Source: Avado

The two reports underline critical challenges for boards to address: security – of finances, brand and assets of in a hyperconnected age – and the necessity to have a digitally skilled workforce. Successful transformation entails acting on and driving multiple competencies and initiatives, as highlighted at this month’s Discover event. But security and talent rank right up there, and the C-Suite, it seems, must do some soul-searching to get it right.

Helen Beckett

Author: Helen Beckett

Helen Beckett is the Community Manager of the Business Value Exchange. She has been a writer and editor for over 20 years and takes a particular interest in the challenges facing the CIO in today’s business climate.