‘The more tech you add, the more blind spots you’re creating’

30 Sep 2022

Christine Whichard. Image: SmartBear

SmartBear’s CISO says machine learning and AI are going to take tech to the next level, especially when it comes to cybersecurity.

Christine Whichard is chief information security officer (CISO) at software player SmartBear, which has its EMEA headquarters in Galway.

Previously, she was SVP of client engagement and operations at Videology (now part of Amobee) for nearly seven years. She was also senior director of the technology solutions group at Merkle, a global performance marketing company supporting nearly 10,000 employees in 50 locations.

“I have always loved technology, starting from a young age. After I graduated from Fairfield University more than 20 years ago, I landed at a tech consulting firm that was hiring recent grads,” Whichard told SiliconRepublic.com.

“I spent the first year of my career learning different programming languages and loved it.”

In her current role, Whichard is in charge of business information systems, enterprise information technology and information security, responsible for specific systems for each department and shared corporate systems and infrastructure, as well as the security of the overall business.

‘With both machine learning and AI, we’ll have better visibility into our threat landscape’

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing in the current IT landscape?

One of the biggest challenges is modernising and simplifying our technology stack. Following the ‘keep it simple’ principle is an increasing challenge today.

With the rapid pace at which SmartBear is growing as well as the company’s acquisition strategy – we’ve acquired a number of companies over the years – it makes simplifying our tech stack a bit more challenging and complex. Companies that we acquire have their own tech stack, and I need to bring them into our modernised and simplified stack.

To resolve this, I work every day to be proactive and not reactive in what systems we use and what integrations we have, while thinking through not just what we need in the next six months to a year, but what we need in the next three to five years.

It’s important to think ahead so we use technology that will sustain us. We don’t need five technology solutions and 10 integrations. Better to utilise one tool with a couple of integrations. To solve these challenges, it’s about being more proactive and thinking longer term as it relates to our tools within our tech stack.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation?

SmartBear is a cloud-first organisation, so in our selection of technology and solutions we opt for SaaS-based and cloud-based systems.

The challenge is that we have a number of different SaaS platforms, and in order to drive efficiency across the organisation, we need to integrate across these systems. Ultimately, my goal is to have the most efficient operational workflow we can, which is what SmartBear needs in order to scale.

How can sustainability be addressed from an IT perspective?

In January of this year, SmartBear announced its global environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiative, solidifying the company’s commitment to social responsibility by adopting a comprehensive set of corporate and governance practices to achieve key sustainability benchmarks. As part of this, we attained new data security standards.

As I mentioned, we take a cloud-first approach. This helps us consolidate infrastructure that is needed and save on consumption. If we’re not hosting it, we don’t have the associated electricity and cooling costs to manage.

Also, whether cloud-based or on-prem, we always mindfully and deliberately choose providers that are committed to sustainability. Additionally, over the last two years, we’ve developed a mature electronic recycling programme, of which I’m very proud.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world?

Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are going to take our technology to the next level in terms of being able to see and learn and predict behaviours before any human using technology would be able to.

Machine learning and AI are going to be able to support cybersecurity to help us identify and predict potential threats and events faster and earlier than a human being ever could. I’m excited about machine learning and AI and what it means for bringing faster and better visibility to our security picture, to our systems, to our infrastructure.

With both machine learning and AI, we’ll have better visibility into our threat landscape, and we’ll have improved understanding where potential behaviours can translate into a security event or incident. That’s what my job is all about.

How can we address the security challenges currently facing your industry?

The cybersecurity industry is very crowded with technology solutions. There are honestly more solutions than we can all use. The problem is, the more technology you add to your stack, the more blind spots you’re creating in the infrastructure.

For me, the answer has always been simplicity, though that’s not simple at all to accomplish. That’s where pervasive visibility comes in. It’s so important to have true visibility across all your solutions so there’s early detection and response.

Visibility is the answer to addressing today’s security challenges. It’s a constant theme in the industry, and something that I work toward every day.

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