We had a great comment by Dan on one of the metrics posts, and it merits an answer with explanation, because in the barrage of posts the intended audience can certainly get lost. Here is Dan’s comment:

Who is the intended audience for these metrics? Kind of see this as part of the job, and not sure what the value is. To me the metrics that are critical around process are do the amount of changes align with the number of authorized requests. Do the configurations adhere to current policy requirements, etc…

Just thinking about presenting to the CIO that I spent 3 hours getting consensus, 2 hours on prioritizing and not seeing how that gets much traction.

One of the pillars of my philosophy on metrics is that there are really three sets of metrics that network security teams need to worry about. The first is what Dan is talking about, and that’s the stuff you need to substantiate what you are doing for audit purposes. Those are key issues and things that you have to be able to prove.

The second bucket is numbers that are important to senior management. That tends to focus around incidents and spending. Basically how many incidents happen, how is that trending and how long does it take to deal with each situation. On the spending side, senior folks want to know about % of spend relative to IT spend, relative to total revenues, as well as how that compares to peers.

Then there is the third bucket, which are the operational metrics that we use to improve and streamline our processes. It’s the old saw about how you can’t manage what you don’t measure – well, the metrics defined within NSO Quant represent pretty much everything we can measure. That doesn’t mean you should measure everything, but the idea of this project is to really decompose the processes as much as possible to provide a basis for measurement. Again, not all companies do all the process steps. Actually most companies don’t do much from a process standpoint – besides fight fires all day.

Gathering this kind of data requires a significant amount of effort and will not be for everyone. But if you are trying to understand operationally how much time you spend on things, and then use that data to trend and improve your operations, you can get payback. Or if you want to use the metrics to determine whether it even makes sense for you to be performing these functions (as opposed to outsourcing), then you need to gather the data.

But clearly the CIO and other C-level folks aren’t going to be overly interested in the amount of time it takes you to monitor sources for IDS/IPS signature updates. They care about outcomes, and most of the time you spend with them needs to be focused on getting buy-in and updating status on commitments you’ve already made.

Hopefully that clarifies things a bit.

Now that I’m off the soapbox, let me point to a few more NSO Quant metrics posts that went up over the past few days. We’re at the end of the process, so there are two more posts I’ll link to Monday, and then we’ll be packaging up the research into a pretty and comprehensive document.