Welcome to the new GDPR world – and why consuming data in a more formalised way will be good for customers and business

I am sure that like mine your inbox has probably been filling up for the past 48 hours with last minute notices from companies and organisations that hold data that is attributable to you as an individual. Like me you have probably been surprised at the range of organisations that have written to you asking for you to state your contact preferences. I certainly didn’t expect to be contacted by such a long list of companies that included a car dealership in Jersey, a farm in Cornwall and several other retail organisations from around the country that I don’t recall ever having any communications with – never mind stating any preferences! It’s all a reminder of how data spreads itself about if left unchecked.

DataI fully appreciate how hard GDPR must have been for many companies. Tracking through complex architectures, manual and automated processes trying to piece together the ‘personal data chain’ must have taken a lot of effort. All of which comes at a time when businesses are under pressure to come up with innovative ideas and strategies to keep their heads above water. You could argue that the last thing many companies need right now is more maintenance and compliance tasks that divert staff away from growth creating activities. But at a time when many industries are being disrupted is GDPR the kick we need to get more value out of the data we hold to forge trusted relationships with customers, partners and ecosystems?

Haven’t we been here before?

Many people have likened GDPR to Y2K. I am not sure I totally agree. Don’t forget back in the day computing power and storage was relatively expensive. So clever programmers and software vendors came up with ways to encode data or to store just the bare minimum in databases, computer chips and devices. The calendar date was stored using just the last 2 digits of the year to save precious storage. Which at midnight on 31st December 1999 meant that the year 2000 became indistinguishable from the year 1900 in all sorts of information processing applications from supply chains, payroll, navigation instruments to factory gate systems.

So, if Y2K was partly created because of storage being at a premium. You could argue that access to seemingly limitless data and information storage capacity has being partly responsible for the creation of the personal data issue. Just because you can store data doesn’t mean you should, it’s all too easy to store data multiple times in multiple places. I think another thing that’s changed since

Y2K is the amount of companies that have been bought by other companies or been acquired themselves. So not only do you have multiple versions of systems and data but there isn’t a clear view of where personal data is or how its being managed.

Many companies are busy talking about how the key to achieving ‘non-linear ‘growth is to make the transition from selling products to services. For many the key to success will be in their ability to personalise their services based on your usage patterns. Something that will be reliant on more and more data from mobile devices, trackers or other gadgets around your home or garden. Based on current trends it is forecast that by 2035 there will be 1 trillion connected devices. It’s fair to say that in such a data growth climate the regulation of personal data is likely to get more and more regulated as both the volume and the relatedness of the data being collected becomes more pervasive.

Can data really be the ‘new oil’?

Many of us are probably breathing a sigh of relief today after that tough scramble to raise levels of awareness in our companies and get a GDPR programme mobilised. However, unlike previous data imperatives such as Y2K or the race to digitise public records and utilities, GDPR is not going to be a one-off event. Data is often cited by people in business as the new oil. By that they mean it can lubricate business, markets and ecosystems and make it all flow faster and better. If you have ever worked in the oil industry you will know that data about every barrel lifted is created and tracked at every step in the journey from exploration, production, shipping, taxation and trading. The fact that many of us have until now not known where personal, customer and other business data is stored or what applications it is used in suggests that for many companies there is a journey to go on to break down the inefficiencies caused by inaccurate and siloed data.

So how will you look back on GDPR day in a few years’ time?

If in say 2020 when we look back on today will it be because it was a turning point for how we built trust in our customer relationships? Or perhaps the day we made the decision to go beyond GDPR and manage data in a more integrated way to make life better for our staff – no more ‘swivel chair’ data entry for our staff on the front line. Or the day we committed to a new information strategy to enable our company’s data resources to be more accessible in a modern and secure way with the added benefit of making our company attractive to our new joiners. Or perhaps the day you decided that trying to carry the burden of all the data collected and not used and just creating risk was too much and it’s high time you had a jolly good clear out.

Or perhaps you were one of those companies that put a plan in place to capitalise on the data explosion and successfully transitioned to a new business model and so in that sense you never looked back!

Christine H. Ashton FBCS, CISSP

I have held Global CIO/CTO/SVP/ NED digital roles for 20 years . My experience is in driving business and technology transformation and disruptive agendas in large scale , customer focussed and complex data driven corporations inc: Media, Information and data services, Consumer Retail and Telecomms, Oil & Energy, Utilities, Integrated Transport, Global Chemicals Manufacturing and Supply Chain. Non-Executive Director - 5 year term at H.M. Home Office and Passport Agency. Extensive CEO,CIO, Innovation and Technology advisory board experience over 20 years. Strategy advisor to BCS I thrive where I can be a transformational and a change initiator; leader of high profile global digitisation, product change, organisational and technology re-design to increase agility and leverage innovator and supplier ecosystems I also care very much about the development of the technology industry as a whole to be a diverse and fulfilling workplace. Strong advocate of workplace change and inclusivity. I have championed many initiatives to build a stronger talent pipeline for our industry by encouraging and supporting initiatives to promote young people, minorities and women that have received industry recognition. I am consistently Rated, almost every year since they started, in the CIO/ UK Tech / Women in IT and 'most influential' Industry awards

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