For today’s businesses, data privacy is a major headache. Modern privacy regulations will soon cover three-quarters of the world’s population, making regulatory compliance a complex, high-stakes process that touches every part of the organization and requires the coordinated efforts of countless different decision-makers.

Legal counsel interprets a slew of regulations to determine what’s permissible. The chief information officer (CIO) enshrines those decisions in data systems. The chief data officer — plus a larger cast of end-users, including marketing and sales leaders — navigate those systems to put data to work and build trust with their consumers. And the chief information security officer (CISO) keeps data safe along the way. 

All those stakeholders are on the same team, but it doesn’t always feel like they’re speaking the same language. Engineers, lawyers, analysts, and marketers all understand privacy in their own idiosyncratic ways. In trying to bring them together, organizations often wind up with data privacy mechanisms that look like Rube Goldberg designed them: complex and inflexible solutions to an overly specific regulatory problem, rather than the adaptive, streamlined, and scalable systems that organizations need in today’s fast-changing world. 

Fortunately, there’s a better way — IT leaders are stepping up and taking responsibility for driving the necessary change. The reality is that data privacy has grown so complex that it demands a technological solution. By building that infrastructure, tech leaders have a unique opportunity to eliminate friction between stakeholders, unlock genuinely scalable compliance, and transform the way their organizations use data to drive growth. 

Data privacy is a tech challenge

Why does it fall to tech leaders to solve privacy challenges? The simple truth is that nobody else is equipped to build the unified and scalable infrastructure that’s needed. 

When the Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took effect, legal teams created compliance checklists that defined their organizations’ privacy strategy — an expensive, time-consuming process that ensured compliance only with a single specific set of regulatory requirements. 

Today, though, there are dozens of privacy rulebooks. At least 30 states are expected to have privacy legislation announced by 2023, and manually implementing privacy processes for each new regulation simply isn’t scalable. Instead, organizations need privacy solutions that can scale fast, rapidly adapt to new regulations, and enforce privacy decisions automatically and seamlessly across their entire global data ecosystem. 

That requires a tech-driven, programmatic approach to privacy. With the right infrastructure, compliance decisions and consent signals can be mapped to the specific purposes for which data is being collected, and seamlessly reflected across the entire data ecosystem to determine how data is accessed, used, and stored.

In practical terms, that means building systems that control the flow of data across its entire lifecycle, automatically enforcing compliance and reducing uncertainty and risk. Effectively, data control becomes a force multiplier, eliminating friction and amplifying the value that each team creates. Here’s what tech-enabled privacy means in practice: 

  • Legal Counsel can monitor new regulations, determine how they impact the organization’s data, then use a centralized policy center to enact their decisions. The system ensures that new requirements are reflected instantly across the entire ecosystem and even across third-party networks to maintain effortless compliance — with no need for lawyers to fret about the technical aspects of how their decisions are implemented.  
  • CIOs can build out a programmatic solution for their organization’s privacy needs, automating privacy enforcement and seamlessly ensuring data stewardship across the entire ecosystem. There’s no need to worry about re-implementing the legal team’s privacy rulings every time an engineer tweaks a line of code, and no need to rebuild IT infrastructure every time a new privacy regulation takes effect. 
  • Chief Marketing Officers can build trust with consumers, providing transparency and control over data usage. They can roll out data-driven campaigns that make optimal use of responsibly gathered data, delivering personalized messaging without ever overreaching or using data in non-approved ways. Even the user experience of privacy can be optimized for specific jurisdictions and purposes, giving marketing and design teams full control over the content, styling, and even timing of privacy messages.
  • Chief Data Officers can focus on driving value, using datasets to conduct analytics and foster innovation, without having to ask permission or interpret complex rulings handed down by the legal team. The system ensures that data is only used for permissible purposes, enabling data teams to focus on monetizing data efficiently and creatively, secure in the knowledge that it’s impossible for them to operate on data in non-compliant ways.
  • CISOs can keep tighter control over dataflows, while still providing users across the organization with the flexibility needed to innovate and create value. Data availability can be tailored to specific purposes, with anonymization or encryption based on the specific user and their purpose, and stale datasets can be safely pruned to minimize the impact of potential data breaches.
  • Chief Technology Officers can streamline the process of managing cross-border data transfers. They can also enable data localization, with both data presentation and collection processes automatically tailored to the requirements of end-users in any given geography.

Crucially, effective data stewardship is better for consumers. Businesses can give their consumers a far richer understanding of how their data is being used, and more meaningful opportunities to provide or revoke consent. In other words, tech-enabled data stewardship isn’t just about making organizations more efficient — it’s about forging stronger relationships by respecting consumers’ data dignity.  

The new data economy

This adds up to big gains for the entire organization. Tech-driven privacy gives each team member the tools to do their jobs better — and by boosting the value that each stakeholder creates, it ensures that the CEO and directors get the results they need, too. 

Just as importantly, CIOs who take point on privacy can prepare their organizations for the new data economy. The future of data will depend on transparency and trust, with consumers sharing data preferentially with organizations that treat them with respect. In areas such as ethical AI, big data, and more, companies that step up and prioritize users’ data rights will emerge as market leaders in the data economy of tomorrow.

For today’s businesses, the next stage of growth depends on addressing privacy holistically, and using technology to unlock value at scale while respecting customers’ dignity and agency at every step of the way. It’s time for IT leaders to rise to that challenge — and take responsibility for shaping the future of data privacy for their organizations.