The Facebook debacle shouldn’t swing the pendulum toward data overprotection

A deeper dive into controlling and protecting data in the wake of Facebook’s “Cambridge Analytica scandal” and the unintended consequences of lost access from higher standards. Enterprises should address the trade-offs up front as indecision or conflicting rules could prove costly.

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Alan Carrera (CC0)

If ever there was a time for an abundance of caution around the potential misuse and exposure of data, it would be now. The Facebook data debacle combined with the looming GDPR deadline, one could argue, are clear evidences of the need to restrict access to data, not expand it. But here’s the dilemma – right now businesses need broader access to their data. A wild swing of the pendulum toward the overprotection of data could be catastrophic for business goals like increasing sales, expanding profits, gaining market insights and implementing strategy.

The challenge of controlling and protecting data is a big one, but the bigger question by far is how to make people more productive with corporate information while maintaining standards of compliance and governance for broad access and use in the age of digital business.

Every company must make critical choices when managing data. Here are just a few to consider.

1. Do you offer unfettered access to data or does IT have to remain the sole gatekeeper?

Often the quest for security can eclipse data usability. A higher goal would be to give business leaders direct and timely access to critical information in a well-managed data environment. Safe accessibility can be achieved through proactive measures for internal governance, masking of PII data and profiling your data to find out where you're at risk.

"Today's new era of data platforms for the enterprise combine the right mix of capabilities to allow the business to utilize data in an agile and innovative way, while not exposing the organization to risk,” says Sean Keenan, co-founder and VP Product at data tools vendor Unifi, who I caught up with before Adobe Summit 2018. “Leveraging solutions that can automatically scour an organization’s systems that contain data, advising the organization on where sensitive data lives within those systems, and then applying the right policy and authorization rules to enforce use of that data is table-stake functionality that enterprises should be implementing."

With secure yet direct access, leaders at several levels of the organization can query data to explore ‘what-if’ scenarios, such as, “What if we compare last week’s weather alongside what our customers bought?” This benefit of making direct queries can be enormous. Rather than waiting for weeks to get answers to business questions from IT, leaders can address key questions in minutes.

2. Will you systematically organize your data or let it continue in chaos?

Let’s face facts. At the current rate of data expansion, most CIOs find it impossible to keep a handle on all critical sources of all relevant information at all times. The foundation of truly usable big data is a robust data catalog. According to enterprise data expert Larry Myler, “Most often, it’s necessary to aggregate hundreds of internal and external data sources. That may sound cumbersome, but it’s manageable if the right protocols are in place for data governance, cataloging, discovery and preparation.”

Often, the very cause of data vulnerability is the state of disarray in which it resides. If you don’t know what you have, where it is, who can access it or how to organize it, your data will forever remain both at risk and of minimal use to those who need it most.

3.  How soon will you employ artificial intelligence as a key driver of data security, organization and access?

Will AI surpass human intelligence? In many areas it already has. Big data management is one of those areas. AI, therefore, is not a matter of if, but when. Chances are, some of your competitors have already made this choice, and they’re running data circles around your company.

Two things we know about Artificial Intelligence: 1) Its capabilities are increasing exponentially; and, 2) It is a direct route to sustainable competitive advantage. Keenan added that "ML/AI techniques will continue to evolve and expand in their deployment within the enterprise software stack. The ability to apply automation in the use of an enterprise's data assets to drive additional products, services, and consumer experiences presents an amazing opportunity that we will continue to invest in as a data products company."

4. How will you balance potential data risks against desirable business gains?

Speaking of choices, the either-or decision we often back ourselves into regarding risk vs. access is a false choice. You can, and must, allow for both if you are to remain competitive. One of the biggest challenges to finding the right balance of security and access is found in the differences in mindset between IT professionals and the C-suite. The former tends to err on the side of protection, while the latter wants and needs quicker access to more data.

Which group is correct? Both, of course. The sooner you can establish data equilibrium— satisfying the needs and concerns of all parties—the sooner you can confidently and safely move into a new phase of business success. Increased sales, better market intel and higher levels of customer satisfaction will be the prizes for those who can at once protect and access data.

The rules have changed in the information age. Data is the new currency and those who use data properly will have a sustainable advantage.

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