GDPR and the human element of personal data protection

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The General Data Protection Regulation is set to be a fact of life in less than six months, and arguably the biggest challenge facing enterprises across the globe is locating personal data sources and classifying them correctly.

Most businesses will have some degree of legacy data, whether paper or digital, and before taking any technical steps at all it is essential to ensure that this personal data locked in ERP and CRM systems is classified according to risk.

Although the general thrust of GDPR has been widely debated in the media and among security industry peers, much of the coverage to date has focussed on the huge penalties for non-compliance, rather than looking at the opportunities of data discovery and process improvements for enterprises of all shapes and sizes.

Indeed, a recent study found that 60% of EU organisations say they will face serious challenges in being GDPR-compliant, and in fact 40% of respondents report that their organisations do not view compliance with GDPR by the deadline as a priority.

Geographical complications

This is all a matter of fact, rather than conjecture, but business responses to GDPR and its implications have varied considerably in my experience. Anecdotally, not many European and UK organisations have been giving the regulation enforcement date as a high priority as perhaps they could have done. Some will only be kicking off in December 2017, leaving them a mere six months to comply.

US companies are generally speaking not particularly prepared, and the complexity of the legal landscape is going to make it difficult for those who have not thought ahead. For example, companies with significant operations such as head offices outside the EU face the issue of adequacy, so will potentially need to construct a lawful mechanism to transfer data. The model contract clause is one such mechanism, another is binding corporate rules, but this mechanism does require prior planning, and approval from the ICO.

Geography and legalities aside, the most important element of a robust GDPR strategy is to evaluate people and processes first – technology is a facilitator to the processes that need to be put in place. This initiative is not a tickbox compliance approach, and there is no plugin or tool that will simply make it all go away. On the positive side, there is plenty of opportunity to take this watershed moment in personal data management and look at harmonising company data policies, which have often grown up over time with significant overlap.

Data discovery

Finding the precise location of data defined as ‘personal’ under GDPR from amongst the thousands of tables and columns (or fields) in complex and customised packaged systems, represents a significant challenge. Traditional tools and methods, such as searching for documentation, using templates and reference models or employing external consultants, do not address the challenge in an effective and timely fashion.

Safyr offers an interesting approach - it interfaces with all the most popular ERP and CRM solutions in order to speed up that discovery process. Speed and accuracy here are vital for several reasons - obviously ‘bad’ data discovery initially means that risk assessments will be skewed, and even worse it may cause a loss of focus, so that less critical issues are fixed first, rather than the real high risk issues. These issues are the major benefit of using a discovery tool, rather than attempting hand cranked scripted procedures.

Data protection impact assessment

Unstructured data will be a major challenge for many organisations because of the nebulous nature of it and obtaining full information about it. For example, Salesforce, which historically slurps up huge amounts of information that might not be essential for everyday business, but will be highly relevant in a GDPR context.

The result is hidden risk, where in the event of a data breach business could be exposed to far greater penalties than they think if information is not correctly categorised. All new systems or updates to data systems should have a complete data protection impact assessment (DPIA) - as mandated under article 35 - that assess the risk profile, as well as facilitating the scoping of a new system. A DPIA is an excellent programme management technique, and should from now be a matter of course - if it was not before!

Information asset register

Another vital element of preparation for and compliance with GDPR is the setting up of an Information Asset register, which is specifically detailed under article 30. The aim is to inventory all the systems, electronic and paper based, that hold personal information. Data glossaries and/or data dictionaries support this register, and there are plenty of tools that can help with this, including many content management systems.

Overall, the imminent arrival of GDPR should be seen as a fantastic opportunity to get in-house policies, systems and technologies into shape, as well as demonstrating compliance in time for the deadline. While many enterprises are only just beginning to get started, those with the longest runup will be those with the fewest unforeseen problems come mid-2018.

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