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Oh data, where art thou - The challenges of data management in a disruptive environment

Data lies at the heart of much of the digital transformation happening in the world today. However, the growing volumes of data and the shift to cloud environments, coupled with increasingly stringent regulatory expectations, present an imposing challenge for many organisations today.

OpenGov spoke to Mr. Michael Bishop, Legal Director, Asia Pacific, Commvault, regarding this rapidly changing landscape and its implications for data management. Commvault is a global leader in enterprise backup, recovery, archive and cloud data management solutions.

Growth in data volumes and the shift to cloud

People used to know where their data is. They used to know where their back-ups were. But two developments have led to a paradigm shift.

The first is the exponential growth in data volumes. The second is the shift to cloud. Earlier organisations used to store their data in a single data centre. Now there are commercial cloud, hybrid cloud environments. There are many compelling reasons to move to the cloud, such as scalability according to changing demand and on-demand availability of storage and computing resources. This poses a real challenge for companies as try to manage their data. Now many organisations don’t really understand their data footprint.

New laws and regulations

The new laws and regulations coming in further add to the complexity. For instance, data sovereignty requirements might need the organisation to know where their cloud provider is storing their data. A Singaporean company, dealing with data of Singaporean citizens, might choose a cloud provider based in Singapore. But they might be backing up their data in Malaysia.

Many organisations place a lot of faith in their cloud provider for securing and recovering their data. But Mr. Bishop urged caution, “You can move your data to the cloud, but you cannot move your compliance obligations. Those stay with the organisations. I think in the rush to the cloud and the rush to take advantage of all those features, people have sometimes lost track of their data footprint. This becomes vital during attacks, breaches and outages, when people need to turn around and ask, well where is my data back-up?”

Probably the most important example of new regulation at the moment, is the General Data Protection Act (GDPR; Final version of the Regulation, released 6 April 2016) in the European Union (EU). Mr. Bishop called it the most meaningful piece of privacy legislation in a very long time.

The GDPR was approved and adopted by the EU Parliament in April 2016. The regulation will take effect after a two-year transition period and, unlike a Directive it does not require any enabling legislation to be passed by government; meaning it will be in force May 2018.

Mr. Bishop said, “I like the fact that is a regulation rather than a directive. With a directive, it gets implemented in member states differently. They are kind of free to interpret it however they want. But this harmonises the regulation across all the member states.”

The GDPR was created in a culture, where privacy appears to be more highly valued, as compared to other jurisdictions. The GDPR will hand back power to the individual or the data subject. Individual data subjects would be able to bring class actions directly against the organisations. Earlier only the data controller could be prosecuted, because the processor was considered to be just doing the controller’s bidding. But under the GDPR both parties can be pursued. The cloud providers and data processors, now they are just as liable as the controllers.

Mr. Bishop also believes that the data portability rights in the GDPR and the data breach notification rules are big positive steps.

But these presents a huge challenge for organisations dealing with data. For instance, GDPR sets a time limit of 72 hours (Australia introduced similar notification requirements recently, but with a requirement to notify as soon as practicable) for informing the supervisory authorities about any unauthorised loss, access or disclosure of information, resulting in physical, material or non-material damage to natural persons.

Another example is the ‘Right to erasure’ ('right to be forgotten') in Article 17 of the GDPR states that the data subject has the right to obtain from the controller the erasure of personal data concerning him or her, if the personal data are no longer necessary in relation to the purposes for which they were collected or otherwise processed; or the data subject withdraws consent.

This can be highly problematic from a data management point of view. The organisation has to delete all copies of that individual’s data, wherever it has been reproduced or duplicated. To do that you have to know where your data is in the first place.

72 hours presents a very small window. Hence, a very proactive approach is required. Companies need to be prepared to communicate the effects and have remedial measures in place. No one is immune to these cyberattacks and data breaches. And everyone is going to be targeted at some point.

On top of the difficult obligations of trans-national laws, businesses have to deal with different national regulations. It can get overwhelming for IT managers and CIOs.

In fact, Mr. Bishop said that many organisations in Asia did not realise initially that they were going to be affected by the GDPR. “If you are serving customers in the EU, you are caught by the GDPR. If you have an office in the EU, it’s applicable to you. Even if you are monitoring the behaviour of European citizens, or if you have a website with European customers, you will still be under the jurisdiction of the GDPR,” he said.

Previously data privacy was not a subject which interested many people. Many organisations thought they would pay the fine if it came to that. The fines proposed under GDPR are much bigger (can go up to the higher of 20 million Euros or 4% of the annual worldwide turnover).

The bigger fines are focusing people’s attention on privacy issues. But that is not the only factor. People are realising that privacy breaches affect customer trust.

It gets even worse if customers find out that an organisation suffered a cyberattack and didn’t disclose it, especially when their personal information if affected.  

Commenting on the recently proposed cybersecurity bill in Singapore, Mr. Bishop said, “One of the things I really like is the mandatory reporting. That’s really important.Companies are required by law to disclose  any data breaches to protect from vulnerabilities.”

Companies express worries about undermining the confidence in the consumer economy. “That’s the wrong way to look at it. What we should be focusing on is how can we restore confidence by putting the right encryption in place, by putting right security measures in place, managing communications and having plans for remedial actions,” said Mr. Bishop.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what Mr. Bishop called ‘data intimacy’. He described it as having a complete understanding of where your data and environment is, and how the data lifecycle varies according to these factors. Organisations need to have that understanding before they can even start to unravel their compliance obligations.

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