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May 18, 2018

GDPR: A Strategic Opportunity for Today’s CIO

CIOs must take a customer-centric approach to GDPR, says Salesforce's Adam Spearing

By April Slattery

With a week to go before the GDPR comes into effect, every organisation and employee that handles customer data is being impacted – from retailers and financial services to charities and hospitality. Much of the focus so far has been on businesses preparing for GDPR compliance, but truly understanding the issue requires taking a step back. In doing so, businesses are able to see the longer-term opportunity it presents.

We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it’s bringing with it a wave of enabling technologies, from Internet of Things and artificial intelligence to cloud services and mobile devices. These technologies are enabling organisations to deliver new types of services and to understand their customers better than ever before.

Customer experience has become the new business battleground. However, what much of the narrative around GDPR overlooks is its ability to help companies compete and succeed in this new privacy landscape. I believe the most customer-centric businesses will not only comply with the GDPR, but will use the regulation to unlock the power of their data to serve their customers better than ever before, gaining a competitive advantage. Here’s how.

The New Consumer Democracy

Today’s customers have an increasing awareness about their privacy rights and expect organisations to safeguard the use of their personal data. The GDPR is a response to this and aims to make companies more accountable, and requires them to implement strict controls and compliance around what data can be collected, used, and shared.

With an ever-growing mountain of data to manage, the GDPR is undoubtedly a challenge for CIOs whose roles have already dramatically evolved in recent years. But the GDPR also presents a real opportunity to put the CIO at the heart of customer experience.

To store and track data, most companies use a range of different systems, both on-premise and in the cloud. It’s not surprising that data often becomes siloed. Added to this is shadow IT, where valuable data is stored in employee emails, ad hoc documents and even home-spun apps; rather than centrally. With so many systems in place – not all of them always approved by the IT department – information can easily become scattered across the organisation.

Not only does this mean businesses aren’t operating as efficiently as they could be, it makes GDPR compliance more complex. By moving all systems and processes to one controlled environment, CIOs can have a single view of the business – accessible from anywhere and from any device. This offers a great deal of flexibility that can also help customers meet their GDPR obligations. It puts data control firmly back into the hands of the CIO.

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It’s Smart Data, Not Big Data that Matters

Until the GDPR was proposed, many companies did not have a clear strategy around what data was stored, why the data was needed and how it would be used. As a result, today’s CIOs are sitting on an ever-growing mountain of data. GDPR is breaking this cycle – it encourages companies to build smart data strategies and focus on engaging customers through the channels and methods that they most prefer. I believe that by focusing on the customer, companies will more easily meet their obligations under the GDPR and better serve their customers’ needs.

One in two UK customers are likely to switch from a company that doesn’t make an effort to personalise interactions. One of the outcomes of the GDPR is that it will help ensure better, more intuitive integration between IT, sales, marketing and customer service. This step change will not only mean customer data is stored for the benefit of the customer – it will help ensure the experience they receive is much more personalised. This will go a long way towards building continued trust and loyalty.

Driving Modernisation

Many businesses are facing a challenging decision: do they keep existing applications, investing in new features or hardware only as required? Or are they now reaching the tipping point for full migration into a modern, cloud platform which makes it easier and faster to build apps and manage GDPR compliance? CIOs can use the GDPR as a strategic opportunity to conduct a modernisation program and build on a platform that will continue to drive innovation quickly for their business and customers.

A cloud platform means that businesses can respond to evolving customer expectations faster and with better results. It puts CIOs in a prime position to help ensure the organisation is delivering new and innovative ways to meet customer demands, long into the future. It gives them a clear, strategic path to make the case for an often much-needed modernisation project that may not have been a priority for the rest of business.

This is really where we can expect to see the smartest businesses stand out. If CIOs look at the GDPR purely through a compliance lens, they will achieve their goal, but nothing more.

However, if a CIO views GDPR as part of the effort to make the business become truly customer-centric, there is an opportunity to spearhead a fundamental change. GDPR compliance projects are complex but in the long term, they can help take a business to the next level. With the right mind-set, CIOs will see that it can bring about positive change and be a real driver for continued innovation. It can lay the foundation for a future-proofed business, one that is more closely attuned to the needs of its customers as they evolve to meet future challenges head-on.

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