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Caterpillar CIO: the price of data security

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Digital transformation brings data security concerns to the fore. Here is how one of the world’s largest industrial companies deals with it.

Caterpillar’s CIO, Julie Lagacy, has been with the company for 28 years and is now helping lead a profound digital transformation to help align IT with the rest of the organization.

Her route to the role, however, differs from that of the traditional CIO.

Having been CFO for Caterpillar Global Mining prior to taking up office, Lagacy believes her background in finance has provided her with an aerial view of the 90-year-old organization that enables her to better connect the dots.

She believes that providing value whilst protecting the data of customers should be front and center of the digital transformation efforts of any business worldwide.

“I think the tension that comes with providing convenient services while upholding privacy and security of information is an incredibly important issue,” Lagacy begins.

She explains that Caterpillar’s digital transformation is “adding value to customers through using data to help them better understand how machines operate, from a productivity and safety perspective.”

“If you think about the productivity of a machine, it can be driven by a number of differing factors. How that particular machine is being used, the conditions it is being used under and more can all affect output. So if we have all of this information, we can help provide customers with the opportunity to improve productivity.”

Through harnessing the power of the IoT, Caterpillar is able to help customers anticipate future problems and improve their safety and productivity.

They are also able to leverage that data to help inform future designs, components and equipment.

A practical example of this is if you consider a Caterpillar’s bulldozer on a construction site.

Given how expensive something going awry could prove to be, by monitoring all aspects of the bulldozer, Caterpillar is able to flag potential problems to customers or dealers before they happen.

“For us it is about improving productivity, customer owning and operating costs and overall user experience, including safety. All of these things are really part of the overall digital initiative.”

Now, of course, providing these services requires the leveraging of large amounts of customer data to be effective.

And with so much at risk as a result of high profile data breaches widely covered in the press, CIOs globally are required to champion data security fervently.

As this trend persists, Lagacy believes those in charge of data security and information technologies have a responsibility to ensure customer data is secure.

“I think this is the challenge for information security departments, to ensure that this continues to happen. I can’t imagine that you would talk to any CIO today who would say that keeping their information secure wasn’t a top priority. ”

“When it comes to security, there’s no such thing as standing still. If you aren’t progressing and you are standing still, you are in effect going backwards.”

The Caterpillar approach

One of Caterpillar’s core strategies to raise awareness around the importance of data security is to train staff to be as receptive to the importance of the issue as possible.

By meticulously drumming home what “normal” looks like in day-to-day operations, it creates an environment where anything out of the ordinary can quickly be picked up and flagged.

Once flagged, the information is then passed on to the security team at Caterpillar to take proper action.

“It is definitely in the interest of everyone throughout the organization that this is done properly and done well. It really is critical that we maintain the safety and security of that data.”

Another means of security used by Caterpillar is through the use of identity management to secure its systems.

Identity helps with security because it better allows businesses to understand who exactly is in their systems, what kind of behavior is being displayed, and allows Caterpillar to easily isolate unknown entities quickly and efficiently where necessary to minimize any potential damage.

It helps support the recognition of “normal” in a way that is both efficient and effective for all parties.

After all, Lagacy explains, “we see security as a means of enabling business. It shouldn’t be something that slows us down or even stops it altogether.”

“The challenge then becomes finding that extra layer of security to be able to provide convenience and ease of use to our customers at the same time.”