“if you have a tidy room and someone makes a mess, you’re able to spot it straight away. If you know where your data is, who has access to it, and what they’re doing with it, you’ll notice any malicious activity far more quickly.”
Since the introduction of the GDPR in 2018, there has been an increased focus on how businesses manage personal data. The same principles can actually be applied to any data – whether it’s related to sales and marketing, production, or an organisation’s internal operations, writes Owen Pettiford, SAP Architect and SAP Mentor at Syniti.
As 2019 draws to a close, I’ll examine why a holistic approach to data governance will be required to address a growing range of issues over the coming 12 months.
Identifying Malicious Activity
Where malware was the primary cause of data breaches a year ago, phishing attacks are expected to be the biggest threat facing businesses in 2020. At the same time, with six billion connected endpoints expected in the enterprise and automotive sector alone by the end of 2020, the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) is opening up another channel of attack.
Many connected devices represent something of a double-edged sword. Although they’re easy to set up, typically working straight out of the box and quickly connecting to the internet or corporate network, users often might not understand how these devices are connecting and what data they’re transmitting. But criminals do understand this – and if they know that a device’s default settings haven’t been changed, they know they have a way into the network, from where they can then steal valuable data.
AI is becoming an increasingly popular means of tackling such threats, but AI isn’t yet infallible. It can become predictable in its responses, making it easy for criminals to spoof AI algorithms with fake credentials. And, of course, criminals can employ AI themselves, to deceive an organisation’s security solutions.
As criminals look to exploit this particular threat vector throughout 2020, the best way for businesses to protect their data is to ensure it is under control and – importantly – clean. After all, if you have a tidy room and someone makes a mess, you’re able to spot it straight away. In the same way, if you know where your data is, who has access to it, and what they’re doing with it, you’ll notice any malicious activity far more quickly.
Until now, most businesses haven’t received many requests under GDPR. However, every time Facebook admits what it’s doing with its users’ data, those users become more aware of the fact that they’re giving something away in return for “free” social media.
As such admissions continue to make news headlines throughout 2020, the public will increasingly begin to question how companies use their data, particularly when they consider how many companies they share data with.
The average social media user in the UK has 7.1 social media accounts. Add to this the volume of fitness tracker apps, retail sites, and email services to which we subscribe, and the extent to which we share data is quite staggering. We shouldn’t be surprised if consumers carry out a little housekeeping over the next 12 months.
It’s important, therefore, that businesses pre-empt this, and take steps now to understand exactly what data they have, why they have it, what it’s used for, why it’s needed and even if it’s needed. That way, when someone does request under GDPR, an organisation can share clean information on the data they hold and why they hold it, rather than airing their dirty data laundry.
There has been a huge shift in expectations regarding the time it takes for something to be created, delivered or dealt with. 20 years ago, we would have been satisfied with a response within days or sometimes weeks. Today, though, the popularity of services such as Spotify, Netflix and Amazon Prime mean that people want everything now.
In an ever more cutthroat commercial environment, businesses will need to respond to these expectations or face being overtaken by their more nimble competitors. But achieving the necessary speed requires businesses to take people out of the equation – as a result, 2020 will see an increase in automation.
Automation is powered by data. Bad data – the wrong addresses, product codes, or specifications – is sand in the engine, however. The AI behind the automation has to be smart enough to know that the data it’s being fed is bad, or it’s going to make the wrong decisions. And, because the automation happens at such speed, businesses will have a very limited ability to identify those wrong decision.
As businesses across all industries move toward hyper-automation, there’s no room for poor-quality data. Data governance is key to ensuring efficiency and thereby retaining a competitive edge.
Environmental Impact of AI
With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly tangible, governments and enterprises across the globe are committing to being carbon neutral by 2050. As part of this, businesses can help by better managing their data, especially when it comes to AI.
AI is incredibly data-hungry. Collecting, preparing, analysing and storing huge volumes of data requires considerable computational power. When you consider that data centres account for more than two percent of the world’s energy usage and around two percent of global carbon emissions, it’s clear that training AI can be costly for the environment, particularly when using poor quality data.
Every time an AI solution is reworked, it can have a damaging impact on the environment. Businesses must therefore optimise their data processing to get things right the first time, every time. A solid data governance and quality strategy will provide organisations with the transparency they need to improve efficiencies. It’s essential too, the everyone within an organisation appreciates the importance of using only high-quality data – not only to business process, but also to the wider environment.
Processing data is already responsible for too much of the world’s energy usage and carbon emissions. Steps must be taken now if we’re ever to become carbon neutral.
Cyber-security, data privacy, automation and sustainability are all issues for our times, and will continue to be so long past 2020. Better data management has a role to play in addressing each of this issues. But, although data tends to be held in silos – by sales, by production, by finance – it should be available to all. Rather than governing siloed data with siloed solutions, businesses should employ a holistic approach. With a better view of all of its data, an organisation will be better equipped to deal with any challenges that come its way over the next 12 months and beyond.