What is data compliance?

Data compliance is the formal governance structure in place to ensure an organization complies with laws, regulations, and standards around its data. The process governs the possession, organization, storage, and management of digital assets or data to prevent it from loss, theft, misuse, or compromise. The stipulated regulations and standards determine what data needs to be protected as well as the most suitable processes for doing so.

Why do organizations need data compliance?

Data volumes are continuing to grow rapidly. Technology, too, continues to develop and advance significantly. With these ongoing changes in the world of business, compliance needs have also become increasingly complex. For this reason, data compliance should be an important part of business operations to address and continually maintain.

Legislation obligates organizations to come up with a security strategy and implement technical and administrative measures to protect their customers' data. The regulations for data compliance encourage an organization to wholly re-examine and improve its cybersecurity strategy.

There are a number of reasons why organizations must prioritize data security.

Brand loyalty

Data compliance bolsters the customers' trust and loyalty. Following the increased cases of data breaches, consumers are becoming more concerned and vigilant about the handling of their data. Breaches in data security come with a huge loss in reputation and customer churn.

Attract quality employees

A corporate code of ethics that prioritizes data compliance is valued by quality employees. If an organization manages data and upholds customer’s privacy, employees can safely assume their information will be managed accordingly also.

Avoid negative outcomes

Non-compliance can result in data security breaches and fines.

Improves data management

One of the requirements of GDPR is for organizations to audit the data they hold. Auditing tells businesses what data is at their disposal, how they collect it and hold it, as well as how it can better be organized, stored, and managed.

Data auditing also helps in detecting and disposing of redundant, obsolete, and trivial files. That way, organizations are only left with data that is valuable. Data clean-up cuts down the cost of storage and processing. Also, it is imperative that organizations ensure that they have the best data management technologies.

Businesses can take the opportunity to consider some data management technologies, including data virtualization, in-memory data grids, data integration toolsevent stream processing, and integration platforms as a service (iPaaS) for data integration.

The bottom line is that data compliance is a must for any data-driven business.

How to ensure data compliance in an organization

Most organizations prioritize data governance to ensure data regulation compliance and other services, including reporting quality, improvement of operations, and improving customer experience. Although this strategy is essential, especially in ensuring data compliance, it becomes problematic, particularly when data governance is used as a standalone documentation-oriented initiative. In such a case, an organization may be tempted to create its unique business processes by applying its own tools. As a result, an organization may institutionalize its own data governance to such an extent that it may be rendered unreliable for day-to-day data operations.

Successful businesses approach data compliance in a holistic way. They embark on integrating data governance with a data management program that involves documentation of ownership, procedures, definitions, and policies to bolster data compliance.

Organizations should understand that their customers’ choice to use their products and services means they entrust the business with their information. It is the organization’s key responsibility to serve customers to the best level they can. By doing so, an organization ensures they use and secure their data responsibly and appropriately as intended.

To cultivate a culture of data compliance, organizations should develop an all-encompassing approach for reviewing services, operations, products, and processes to eliminate any compliance gaps. The organization’s ability to protect data while maintaining user access to real-time data should be a priority.

Laying the groundwork with your organization

Begin by establishing an effective team working “on the ground.” Ensure that all employees receive adequate training on data security and privacy. A basic place to start is by initiating basic training on GDPR compliance. There are two forms of training to choose from: customized training and specialized training. The latter may include targeted workshops and training sessions for a range of generic teams such as human resources, professional services, engineering, support staff, cloud services, finance, and marketing. Because every team has different access and uses for data, how they manage it will be different too.

Customized training, on the other hand, will help an organization handle any potential data compliance vulnerability that may lead to litigation, unnecessary costs, damage, and fines. This training is specialized to the industry and data use.

Don't stop at training. Next, make sure that employees are continually reminded and equipped with knowledge through a corporate training curriculum. The curriculum ensures that the employees always comply with the standards and new regulations. Just-in-time training is part of this; as new situations and opportunities arise, provide the education needed to deal with all data-related issues.

Keep up with rapidly moving legislation

GDPR was introduced when there was a huge need for the largely unregulated data compliance industry. It was created to manage rampant data misuse that was often a precursor to fraud and online theft. GDPR came with new concepts and policies on individual data rights as well as data processing security. As data grows, so do concerns about its ethical use. Local and international legislation is constantly changing to try and catch up to this moveable feast.

As a result, organizations need to continually review internal policies and practices to ensure they are fit for purpose. Scheduling regular policy reviews gives companies an opportunity to improve on existing guidelines or create new ones.

Are all stakeholders compliant?

Besides training employees and keeping internal business policies and practices in check, organizations should look beyond the immediate organization horizon. Companies need to look at suppliers, subcontractors, and other consumers of an organization’s product or service to ensure the entire data sequence is secure and compliant. Raise the bar for the related supply chain to become GDPR compliant by carefully reviewing all supplier relationships.

For example, the companies that supply an organization with cloud services, hosting, data processing, and immersive technology must be GDPR compliant. From time to time, an organization may require amended contracts to ensure that suppliers comply with their GDPR standards. Organizations cannot afford to be lenient with a supplier who is unwilling to abide by the set standards; they risk fines, loss of sales, and reputational problems. If a supplier is not willing to implement standards to provide the needed data standards, it may be time to find a new supplier.

The value of consistency

Compliance with GDPR is not the end, but a means to set an organization apart from competitors and steer it to compliance and security. Data compliance is part of a positive data culture that every organization should adopt and adhere to. Ensure a continuous review and improvement of policies and practices in a manner that improves and ensures data security and data privacy.

Markers of organizational data compliance success

How does an organization know when their business or organization is data compliant? No assumptions should be made. A successful data compliance program should be in place and address the following factors:

Address more than just legal obligations

An organization must assess what specific risks it faces, and what is important and mandatory to address. Businesses or organizations all face different risks, and the aspects that may be important to one business may not be a priority to the other. For example, the banking sector faces different risks from the healthcare sector.

Review of documentation and policies

There must be proper documentation of the data compliance program. An organization needs to document every step of data management processes, have a clear chain of data management personnel, and the documentation should be verifiable and accessible through uncompromised reports. There should be regular formal reviews of the data protection compliance program so that any changes to relevant policies or legislation may be adjusted in a timely manner.

Ownership allocation

Organizations should not risk paying penalties because someone somewhere failed in their duty.

Without clearly defined ownership of tasks, a data protection compliance program is likely to fail. The responsibilities and roles of data compliance should be structured such that every owner has specific tasks that correspond with their business tasks and areas. Outcomes should be clearly outlined on how to manage data correctly.

Adequate resources and training

Do not stop simply at allocating ownership. Training staff and creating awareness keeps the team informed and up to date with best practices and reduces the risks of a data breach. Training helps employees understand what data they have access to and the risks involved with managing and using it. Moreover, training builds confidence that employees can comfortably and confidently demonstrate compliance to internal and external audits.

Training should be conducted on a regular basis. For example, organizations can provide training when they make changes to their structure, risks, obligations, positions, or when there are new employees.

Facing data compliance challenges

The world is swiftly changing, and the laws and legislation to manage data are moving with it. Keeping up with these changes is important to avoid breaches and penalties.

Along with legal changes, nefarious characters and hackers are moving at break-neck speed, identifying weaknesses and creating innovative scams and loopholes. Somehow, organizations must keep ahead of the unforeseeable. Some of the primary challenges include vulnerabilities of the internet of things (IoT), bring-your-own (BYO) device policies, and remote employee data access.

IoT and other devices

There is no doubt that IoT has transformed how a majority of businesses operate. However, as businesses enjoy the benefits of IoT, it is essential to consider the risk that all those devices pose to data security.

This risk is not only from IoT devices that organizations produce and use externally, such as medical devices worn by patients in a medical setting, but also devices used within the organization. Printers, vehicle trackers, and cell phones all create legitimate data security fears.

Another huge risk is posed by BYO device policies. Allowing employees to use their personal devices for workplace purposes increases the risks of a breach, whether unintentional or premeditated.

Huge data volumes

The immense volume of data collected by organizations is a confounding factor to data security too. As devices and processes are added to business, the risks grow too.

How can these challenges be mitigated?

A few recommendations for overcoming these challenges include but are not limited to:

  • Use of master data management (MDM) software for all mobile devices
  • Carrying out comprehensive data security audits
  • Enact strict data access policies and procedures by ensuring data ownership and regular training on data compliance
  • Packaging caching systems for automatic vetting of third-party components and software

Addressing data compliance is not a one-off task but an ongoing and challenging business concern. The risks of not managing this are huge, and organizations that ignore data compliance may face outcomes from other organizations, criminals, governing bodies, employees, and customers. This is one of the biggest challenges facing modern business life, but a holistic view of addressing data compliance can ensure an organization is safe and ethical.

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