Despite the initial reluctance, cloud systems have gained prominence in regulated industries over the years. According to Forbes, around 54% of businesses believe that cloud-based solutions are vital for their operations and the rate of adopting cloud solutions is likely to pick up.
The biggest upside of these systems is pinned to their scalability potential, explained by the need for solutions that can support the increasing volume of data, both the structured, but more importantly, the unstructured.
As businesses embrace an ever-increasing number of tools and platforms to communicate with their partners, customers, and leads, it becomes increasingly difficult to capture, process and use data to make business decisions. This is where cloud systems can be of particular assistance.
But on the other end of the spectrum, cloud systems are panned for security issues. Such cloud perception, often dubbed ‘exaggerated’, is partly due to the (still) only partial shift in the paradigm, from “my data must be in-house” to a distributed model, but also to the fact that such data governance is difficult to regulate.
Of course, the actual data privacy and security incidents need to be taken into consideration as well. Back in 2019, several landmark data breaches took place, to the dismay of companies considering switching teams and migrating their data to the cloud. These incidents have not only exposed business-critical data of companies and their customers but have led to legal repercussions, fines, and diminished trust in brands.
In some cases, such as the Equifax incident, these fines went well over 500 million dollars. This was just one of the data breaches, but there are many more. The likes of Uber, Yahoo, Capital One, British Airways, to name a few, have all been exposed to data breach penalties. And while there’s no bullet-proof solution to ensure impregnable security, there are certain steps that companies can take to avoid falling prey to data theft.
Cloud Data Compliance Challenges
Business records are a particularly sensitive topic in cloud data management.
There are numerous, stringent regulations in most industries that dictate how business records need to be preserved. From FINRA and HIPAA, to FOIA, and SOX, regulatory bodies have imposed strict rules to protect customer data and ensure greater transparency of business operations.
There are two particular difficulties in this regard that companies need to overcome.
On the one hand, it is the ‘where’ of cloud data management. Most companies in regulated industries such as healthcare, public administration, and education, choose to keep their records in proprietary enterprise systems, where they have full control over who has access to their data. With the cloud, companies are reluctant to let go of their data and let it live somewhere else. There is the issue of restoring data on demand and perceived higher exposure to data theft risks.
And the second, more complex, aspect of data security and compliance is the volume and variety of data that needs to be preserved. Companies are now torn between potentially missing on new leads by avoiding social media and instant messaging tools and keeping up with rules and regulations of regulatory bodies.
While only a decade ago, email was the bread and butter of business communication, today companies talk to their customers and partners, via the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, Skype, Slack, Basecamp, and so on. And this trend is visible in numerous industries. Patients schedule their appointments via Facebook, local police departments brief the public via Twitter, financial companies share their board meeting decisions via social media as well.
The same goes for intra-company communication. Employees from different departments talk to each other via several channels about the same client or their business records each day.
The issue here is to identify, capture, preserve, and archive these various types of data formats, along with their metadata, for varying periods of time (i.e. retention periods), and keep these records safe and unaltered, readily available for disclosure in case of legal action.
If this data is stored in the cloud, the question becomes how certain the company can be that it will hit all these milestones and ensure full compliance at all times.
This is a long-term strategic question that should always start with a comprehensive data governance strategy and a cloud archive, that should meet the specific requirements that companies need to fulfill, each within its industry.
Necessary Features to Help Ensure Compliance
Despite the complexity of data compliance, some key features can vastly improve how companies navigate their compliance, regardless of the industry or company size.
Customizable roles and permissions
Compliance has become an inter-team effort. While compliance officers are still responsible for the brunt of the compliance issues, legal teams, marketing, sales, and development teams are an integral part of this equation. As companies turn to their data for business insights and compliance as a business function evolves, it will be important to make sure only the right roles and titles access the right data.
Most compliance laws that govern business records dictate that this data must only be accessible to designated people within the organization. If all employees had access to sensitive information, that could constitute a data breach, and companies would need to remedy those breaches and be fined for such misconduct.
In that light, it’s important to enable your organization, more specifically your compliance and legal departments to fully customize the roles and permissions across the organization, in line with business needs, as well as in line with best practices and regulations.
Custom-made, automated retention periods
Each set of laws in a given industry has different retention periods. In the case of HIPAA, healthcare organizations need to preserve their records for seven years, whereas educational records should be preserved for five years.
As companies deal with thousands upon thousands of records, it becomes impossible to manually remove the records for which the retention period has expired and keep the ones that need to be preserved. On the other hand, the retention date of these records will vary, so companies need to be able to customize and automate the retention.
Metadata is a must
In legal proceedings, proving the authenticity and validity of data is the foundation stone of a successful case. When choosing your compliance tool, make sure that you can provide not just data, but also metadata: who has created and accessed the records, as well as when, how a record has been modified and what actions have been performed on it.
Sometimes, a simple viewing of a restricted, classified bit of information is considered a breach, so you need to be able to provide a comprehensive view of your data’s history, from creation until delivery to regulatory authorities. This is easily accomplished through metadata.
In certain cases, companies will need to disclose a record that contains sensitive information about a third party. For instance, if there is an FOIA or FERPA request, a compliance officer would need to provide the data request submitter with all the records collected about them. But the compliance officer must do so, without jeopardizing the privacy of other parties mentioned in the records.
To achieve this, it’s useful to have a redaction feature in your toolset: to be able to remove some parts of the records that should be disclosed under current circumstances.
Finally, given the sheer size and variety of data records, it pays off to enable a powerful search function that can search through attachments, messages exchanged via social media, text, instant messaging, and business documents.
This can immensely improve the speed of your compliance and eDiscovery processes, which can be cumbersome when your data is stored in the cloud, across servers. With a robust search, you’re ensuring that you have a single place where you can find and retrieve all vital business records and thus ensure compliance at all times.
Stefan Vucicevic is a tech writer for Jatheon Technologies, an enterprise information archiving company that specializes in archiving solutions for email and social media to organizations in regulated industries globally.