Keeping data swamps clean for ongoing GDPR compliance

The increased affordability and accessibility of data storage over recent years can be both a benefit and a challenge for businesses. While the ability to stockpile huge volumes and varieties of data can deliver previously unattainable intelligence and insight, it can also result in ‘data sprawl’, with businesses unclear of exactly what information is being stored, where it’s being held, and how it’s being accessed.

The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May this year has only complicated matters further, particularly when much of what is being stored can be classified as personal data which, under the new legislation, must be securely managed, anonymised and, if required, deleted.

What’s more, with many organisations exporting data to third-party locations for analysis, this data sprawl has led to businesses around the world facing significant compliance challenges that must be urgently addressed now that the GDPR is in force.

Difficulties with GDPR compliance

The aim of the GDPR is to protect the privacy of EU citizens by ensuring that organisations collect, use, store and dispose of their personal data in an effective and responsible manner. However, if an organisation doesn’t know what data it holds, and where it’s stored, it can prove difficult to comply with the new legislation. This is the problem many businesses are currently facing as a result of large and unwieldy ‘data swamps’.

A by-product of data sprawl, a data swamp is a vast amount of data which, like its physical counterpart, is messy, dirty and murky. If it is hard for organisations to see, much less understand, what is happening below the surface of these swamps, they can easily lose track of the data they are storing, and how they’re storing it, both of which are crucial for GDPR compliance.

Drain the swamp

The first step in penetrating the depths of the data swamp is to understand what data should and shouldn’t be stored; essentially, if it can’t be used to inform business decisions, there’s probably little point in storing it. Once this is understood, organisations are required by the GDPR to manage data in a way that keeps it clean and accessible, which has the benefit of allowing it to be more easily analysed and used to address business issues, in real time.

By only gathering and keeping the data they can actually use and learn from, and by keeping it clean and well organised, businesses can replace their murky data swamps with clearer data lakes, from which it will be far easier to glean valuable insight.

Organisations have worked hard to comply with the GDPR long before it came into force, and this hard work is now paying dividends. Data governance has been improved, and businesses are now better positioned to sort the wheat from the chaff, and discard data that doesn’t offer some sort of business benefit.

An ongoing process

Maintaining GDPR compliance is an ongoing, long-term process, and draining the data swamp just once won’t be sufficient. Many of the data analysis tools currently used by businesses can encourage data sprawl, meaning that even after a data swamp has been transformed into a data lake, the complexity and opacity can soon build up and the problem begins again.

Employing more advanced data analytics tools and experts can minimise the risk of this occurring, however, by enabling users to quickly access the data most useful to them as well as identifying the business value it can offer. In doing so, they can help to maintain relatively stress-free ongoing GDPR compliance. A more centralised and flexible data platform, for example, in which data is left in a database, will enable staff to directly interpret only the data required to answer their immediate questions, thereby removing the need to extract it for analysis.

Tools such as these will make the development of a long-term data governance and analysis strategy possible; analysts will be able to provide an organisation with the business insights they need to be competitive, while remaining compliant with the requirements of the GDPR.

The modern approach to analytics required by today’s data-led business is based around easier processes and cleaner data. Rather than treating the GDPR as just another compliance requirement, businesses that take such an approach, and communicate their belief in the importance of privacy, trust, transparency and security, will reap the benefits. Their data governance will be more effective, they will be compliant and, by embracing transparency and clarity, their relationships with their customers and users will be stronger.

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