Zero Trust

The secret behind a successful zero trust project is no secret at all; it’s the human element

Jun 18, 2021
Zero Trust is a journey


Inventions can lead a hard life. Even those that end up revolutionary. Steve Ballmer, who was CEO at Microsoft when the iPhone was introduced famously said, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” A writer at Bloomberg called it a “luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks.” History has proven otherwise. 

In enterprise technology, similar skepticism generally meets anything new and for good reason. It’s challenging to separate the wheat from the chaff in a noisy and crowded marketplace. Innovations are dispersed and adopted unevenly. And people find comfort in what they already know and are good at. Most organizations have a wait-and-see attitude when adopting technology, whereas others make a business case for rapid adoption of new tools and solutions. How do you decide?

Reflecting on my experience as a technology leader at Synchrony Financial and GE, and inspired by the recent speaking engagements I’ve had with Zscaler and its CXO REvolutionaries, I’ve pulled together some ideas that can help answer the question above. What follows are critical success factors for implementing new technology, building great teams, and delivering IT projects. 

Overcoming inertia

Projects such as moving workloads to the cloud, rationalizing sprawling tech stacks and adopting zero trust entail overcoming inertia. Pre-existing investments in on premise infrastructure like proxy servers, VPN concentrators are a good example of inertia. It’s easy to just decide it’s too late to implement a new solution and simply continue to replace infrastructure like for like, extending your time in the old world by another three years. However, disruptions like the pandemic and events like a merger or acquisition can demand action because new solutions are required. Don’t be a victim of inertia, get ahead of it and deliver the infrastructure to enable the business to achieve instead of what it needs to survive. 

When the world went into lockdown and workers went home to work it was evident that the only way to support the seismic traffic shift away from corporate networks was to turn to the cloud. The whole point of the cloud is scalability and flexibility, hence why the use of tools like Zoom, Microsoft 365 and countless others have exploded.

Education and up-skilling

Even if implementing new tech is a sure-bet from a business value standpoint, the only way that value can be realized comes down to your people, their ongoing education, and predisposition for new things. Technology employees in today’s world need to be eager to embrace or understand what is on the tech horizon. They should be the pioneers and champions of new technology. 

If your team of network engineers likes the status quo corporate network with the same proxy servers, the same set of equipment and devices, along with all the administration and management around those things, you will have a hard time helping the business achieve in the new world. The status quo will go away, new tools and techniques need to be embraced.

As a leader you need to lead by example. Demonstrate the ability to learn, change and grow. I was a CTO for decades, and one of the reasons for my success was that I constantly learned and adapted to the changing needs of the business and marketplace, and I married those changing needs to the changing capabilities of technology. Technology is changing exponentially fast so if you are going to hang your career on it, it only makes sense that you have a bias for action to learn and adapt. As a leader, hire accordingly.

Zero Trust is one piece in your puzzle

Once you have a dynamic and diverse team with a penchant for continuous learning, you are set for adopting new and modern approaches to solve your business challenges. When I led the cloud initiative at Synchrony, we framed the business case as one layer of a broader technology vision that was tailored to deliver on our company's goals. 

Working back from the high-level vision, we outlined underlying technical capabilities that needed to be delivered to achieve that vision. Our business vision was always focused on deciding how to deliver new products and services quickly for our customers.

Speed is something that businesses demand. Expectations are high for rapid deployment of new features and functionality. Getting there means cloud-architected applications that are nimble and able to leverage different resources on the Internet. We built ours on the foundation of the cloud, a data lake, and the APIs and microservices that come with a cloud-first methodology. 

Of course, you need your cloud to be secure to be successful. That’s where zero trust comes in. We turned to zero trust as a key component in managing the network in a world where the future is in the clouds. We understood the role of a zero trust philosophy in delivering a secure future proof network. Rearchitecting for zero trust can be done quickly. In our fast paced world, technology projects can be presented as a long-term vision but then broken down into smaller pieces and reframed into quarterly deliverables. This can help you remain agile, reduce risk, and monitor for trends and opportunities that you can consider in future quarterly plans. 


CIOs, CTOs, and CISOs exist for the good of the business and they should work in concert to make their businesses successful. Your true value is ultimately as a business enabler and understanding how to do that requires not just technical and business expertise but qualities like compromise and empathy. Using the tools to overcome inertia, create the right team and culture, and communicate a compelling technology vision for the future will make you one step closer to being a true business enabler and innovator. 

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