GDPR compliance as a detox exercise

Written by Mike Pannell, BT on 8 May 2018 in Sponsored Article
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BT's Mike Pannell argues that organisations should get rid of data they no longer need

From a young age we love to collect items, toy cars or football cards; there are endless possibilities to fuel the imagination. School also gives us the love of knowledge, and we mentally collect information on the Kings and Queens of England, the works of Shakespeare etc.

When we start work this habit transfers to the workplace, but now we collect information. Unlike a toy cupboard that has a finite capacity, data storage is almost infinite and, almost like magpies, we rarely take time to consider why something is kept.

In a typical organisation, you could find:

- Old emails
- Customer data used to evaluate a system but kept ‘just in case we need to re-run tests’
- Electronic notes for a customer problem you worked on
- Obsolete design material for a system no longer in use

Life coaches can help us declutter our personal lives, but we need a similar approach to data storage in a workplace.

If a personality detox is more of a self-imposed exercise, organisations are obliged by law to review how they retain  personal data –With the upcoming data protection reform, the GDPR, data should not be kept longer than necessary.

There must be a corporate policy on data retention, and hopefully policies are in place across organisations to check their main email storage. However, much of the electronic detritus I outlined is stored by users in hard-to-check places. USB storage, development servers, unstructured data on laptops etc.; there are too many places for this dark data to lurk.

To minimise unintended data loss, tools should be provided to allow employees to store and locate data that need storing. My Inbox is full of companies offering technical solutions to parts of the GDPR problem, but success requires more than technical products, cultural change is required. It will unlikely happen overnight but continuous education on the risks of dark data will slowly change staff’s habits of collecting and storing data they do not need, thus, averting the risk of exposing their organisation to the sanctions of the new law.

If staff can easily locate relevant material, they won’t feel compelled to hoard data ‘just in case’, and GDPR framework will be slightly easier to comply with. All  data will be in a structured form that can be centrally managed against a data retention policy.

As with any fresh start or resolution, a detox is needed in the first stage but then it becomes a matter of some good habits to stay in shape.

For more on GDPR, download BT's latest report Dealing with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation

Mike Pannell is CTO Cyber and Secure Systems for Majors and Public Sector at BT.

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