Stop Dragging Your Feet: GDPR Compliance Can Make You More Competitive

by Heidi Maher – December 15th, 2017

The May 2018 deadline for the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) should have organizations scrambling to roll out GDPR-readiness programs. After all, the regulation applies to most organizations doing business in the EU, non-compliance can result in severe fines, and getting ready for compliance will likely take significant time and effort.

According to a recent global CGOC survey of compliance officers only 6 percent of respondents felt their organizations were ready to comply with the regulation. The survey also reveals that these organizations face many other data protection and management challenges. This article discusses the findings of the survey.

One possible explanation for the lack of progress – as suggested in the survey data – is that many executives are too focused on day-to-day operations to worry about preventing a potential compliance problem down the road. But whether the lack of progress is caused by a mandate to increase earnings, a focus on improving the customer experience, or some other time-sensitive initiative, executives must understand that GDPR compliance isn’t just about risk reduction and cost avoidance. The very same capabilities, strategies and technologies that enable GDPR compliance will help companies meet all their other business goals, including becoming a more efficient, more competitive organization.

And it all starts with a Unified Governance program that provides a single, centralized view of all information across the enterprise and that automates critical information management processes.

Most Organizations Are Missing the Boat

The GDPR harmonizes the various data protection laws in the EU that arose following the adoption of the European Data Protection Directive in 1995, which created only minimum standards around protecting the personal information of citizens and residents. Unlike the Directive, the new regulation also applies to all companies processing personal data of anyone residing in the EU, regardless of the company’s location.

This means companies around the world must comply if they want to do business in the EU. Additionally, the consistency of the GDPR across the EU will likely lead to more consistent enforcement and penalties.

To successfully comply with the GDPR, organizations must know the type, value and location of the information they store, and they must be able to delete, change or provide information as required by the regulation. Yet Top Data Protection Challenges, a survey conducted by the CGOC, indicates that most organizations are not ready. The survey of 132 compliance officers from organizations around the world and across multiple industries revealed the following:

  • Only 6 percent of respondents feel their organizations are compliant with GDPR requirements. Most organizations are also concerned about an inability to demonstrate compliance and revealing their poor data disposal practices.
  • More than a third of executives, 34 percent, will sometimes let operational and cost concerns override compliance with data protection regulations.
  • Only 57 percent of organizations train staff on data protection compliance, with only 25 percent doing regular training and
  • Despite all the data breach headlines, 50 percent of respondents identify internal staff and practices as the biggest security threat vs. just 38 percent who choose external hackers. Notably poorly classified content is the third highest concern.
  • One of the biggest surprises is that although 85 percent of respondents say fine-tuning a defensible disposal program will benefit data protection initiatives, 40 percent have not even started one.

GDPR, Unified Governance, and Increased Competitiveness

Why are organizations so ill-prepared when it comes to GDPR-readiness and other data protection and management challenges? Most likely because the frame of reference for these challenges is around the “potential” for breaches and fines. And it’s difficult to deal with potentials when the realities of increasing revenue and improving customer service are so pressing.

But by solving the GDPR-readiness challenge, by arriving at a full understanding of the value and location of information and improving the ability to manage data deletion, organizations can provide new opportunities for every other information stakeholder:

  • Executives can make better decisions based on the analysis of only the most relevant, high-quality information.
  • Sales, marketing and customer service teams can increase their effectiveness and strategies by accessing consistent, up-to-date customer information.
  • Product design and production teams can increase efficiency and accuracy by accessing reliable, up-to-date supplier and logistics data.
  • Security teams can more quickly and easily identify the high-value and sensitive information they actually need to protect.
  • Legal teams can more efficiently respond to retention requests while eliminating the risk of turning over more information than necessary during e-discovery.

Once businesses recognize the tremendous value across the enterprise of GDPR-readiness, the obvious question is how to get there. The answer is a comprehensive, Unified Governance program.

The key principles of a Unified Governance program include:

  • Participation by representatives from all information stakeholders, including Legal, Records, Compliance, Security, HR, lines of business and IT, along with strong executive management support to ensure universal participation and long-term funding.
  • Comprehensive and inclusive information policy management across the entire enterprise using a Master Datamap.
  • Elimination of information silos to increase accessibility and facilitate management through a single automated and auditable process.
  • Differentiation of high-value actively used data from redundant, outdated or trivial data.

The last bullet, which cannot occur without accomplishing the first three, is particularly important to GDPR readiness and increasing competitiveness. Only through this differentiation can the compliance team and business users gain ready access to high-value data without spending time sifting through “data debris.”

Differentiation also enables the creation and maturing of a defensible data disposal program that automates the elimination of this debris, that is, all information with no legal, compliance or business value. The CGOC estimates that 69 percent or more of enterprise data is debris, so a defensible disposal program not only significantly reduces the burden on the GDPR compliance team, but also directly contributes to all the other hoped-for business benefits.

GDPR compliance is the headline, but a more competitive business that increases sales, reduces costs and minimizes risks is always the aim. By understanding that the underpinning of GDPR-readiness is a Unified Governance program that helps accomplish all these goals, organizations can more easily justify the required investment. For more information about how to launch and mature a Unified Governance program at your organization, visit

Heidi Maher

Heidi Maher is an attorney and a legal technology specialist who has advised hundreds of organizations on information governance around data security, compliance and eDiscovery. She is the Executive Director of the CGOC, a forum of over 3,600 legal, IT, records and information management professionals from corporations and government agencies. For over a decade, CGOC has been advancing governance practices and driving thought leadership across the industry.

Previously, she was a legal subject matter expert for a fortune 150 technology company, a felony prosecutor, a litigator and an assistant state attorney general. Heidi is a Certified Information Privacy Manager.

Stop Dragging Your Feet: GDPR Compliance Can Make You More Competitive

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