Equifax. Marriott. Yahoo. Facebook.
These are just a few of the big-name businesses that sit near the top of the list of the largest data breaches in history. In each instance—and in countless more, small and large alike—malicious actors stole millions of records containing personal information. This data could include everything from a name and address to very sensitive data such as Social Security numbers and much more.
The threats related to data breaches only continue to rise around the globe as companies collect and store an ever-increasing amount of data on individuals. While some locales have made only piecemeal efforts to address these concerns, other regions, such as the European Union, have chosen to take action. The General Data Protection Regulation is unique legislation aimed at giving EU residents more control over their information while creating consequences for businesses who run afoul of the rules, has had a global impact.
Any business serving EU customers or handling EU user information must comply with this legislation—but that's easier said than done. Could robotic process automation (RPA) help? It might seem like an unlikely match, but RPA and the GDPR can, in fact, relate to one another. Properly configured and correctly deployed, it can make achieving GDPR compliance much simpler.
This guide will explore the GDPR and how it relates to your business, even if you aren't based in the EU. We'll also look at how it's possible to improve compliance with RPA applications, plus some concerns you should also consider. Topics covered include:
What Is the GDPR?
The GDPR has two primary goals: creating and enhancing consumer safety provisions in an increasingly digital world and establishing baseline requirements that spell out what companies must do to safeguard user data.
Drafted and passed in the European Parliament, it ultimately came into full force in May of 2018. The GDPR establishes rules for storing data, regulations for handling that data and lays out hefty fines and financial punishments for rule-breakers.
Background on the Development of the GDPR
Where did the GDPR come from and how has it changed the landscape where companies handle personal digital information?
The EU initially decided to begin drafting new regulations in 2011. Conversations between member states led to the eventual creation of the initial text of what would become the GDPR. After a debate and amendment process, the European Parliament passed the GDPR initially in 2015. They then created an international working group to finalize the regulations, laying the path for implementation.
The changes have been immense, although primarily invisible for many users. Web-based browser "cookie" warnings have been the most visible part of the GDPR rollout. Behind the scenes, however, companies had to make massive changes to their data infrastructures. One GDPR provision requires companies to furnish all of a user's data to them upon request. These are the types of challenges businesses face with compliance.
What the GDPR Means for You
For European companies, the implications are clear. Nation-level enforcement agencies won't hesitate to hand out fines for reported and confirmed non-compliance. "OK," you might think, "That all makes sense, but we're an American company. What does any of this have to do with us?"
The answer: a lot. If you collect, store or handle data from anyone living within the European Union, your business must comply with the GDPR—even though you're based in the U.S. EU regulators have already issued fines against U.S. businesses for non-compliance.
The Importance of Performing a GDPR Audit
"You don't know what you don't know" is an apt turn of phrase for companies assessing what actions they must take regarding the GDPR. Your business should conduct a thorough audit to determine what level of compliance it requires. Some U.S.-based companies handle very little business from EU clients, while others turn those users away entirely to avoid entanglements with the GDPR. Others may have the opposite experience.
How much EU information sits in your computer systems? Even the most in-touch CIO might say "I don't know" to such a question. An audit should therefore be the first thing your business does to address the uncertainty surrounding compliance. The GDPR places firms in one of two categories, controllers and processors, based on the data they collect and store. Consult with a legal team to assess your business's current footing.
Moving Toward Implementation
Once you've completed your audit and distinctly determined your responsibilities, it's time to take the first steps toward implementing those policies. This multi-departmental effort will likely span your business as any other regulatory compliance effort might.
However, this is the point at which you can begin truly measuring the impact of RPA on GDPR efforts. Imagine how much simpler things would be if your computer systems could handle some of the most important tasks related to handling EU user data. There are many ways to apply this exciting technology within this area.
Achieving GDPR compliance with automation will save your business time and money by creating a built-in level of confidence you can't achieve with purely manual workflows. With an intuitive platform such as Kofax RPA™, building software robots to help your teams manage user data and control compliance is a solution within easy reach. Discover more about the potential RPA holds in store for your business in this area today.
How RPA Helps You Implement GDPR Compliance
Compliance with the GDPR isn't as simple as ticking a few boxes on a checklist and calling it done. With so much information spread across so many systems, that can be a tall order. There are multiple elements to safely storing and handling user information, plus requirements you face regarding user requests about data you hold.
Your records could comprise tens of thousands of individual records, if not many more. However, with well-engineered software robots assisting, you can remove some of the complexity from the equation—and mitigate the risks of human error, too. Let's look at a few specific examples where RPA helps.
RPA Helps You Manage Your Company's Troves of Data
How many different databases do you use to store customer information? What about marketing leads and other information? All of this could fall under the GDPR's requirements for masking data and keeping it secure within a business. Manually processing all those records to remove personally identifiable information (PII) could take an inestimable amount of time.
An RPA bot configured to access user interfaces capable of modifying files with PII to carry out some of these tasks with relative ease. With advanced RPA, the system can flag records that don't align with the robot's strict rules for handling PII. You can then run a manual review, ensuring all records, uniform or not, pass muster.
Complying with the Right to Be Informed
If an EU user asks to see what kind of data a company has on file for them, the GDPR requires the company to furnish that data promptly and in a cohesive package. Many companies, such as Google, have rolled out such a feature to all their users worldwide to simplify compliance. There aren't human beings on the other side of that process, however. No one is picking through millions of files to find the few relevant records.
Instead, RPA bots can contribute to completing that work. Automated workflows can open the necessary software to access different records and then compile them together in one pre-built template. When all the records are in one place, another bot can package them into an email or an online download before notifying the user.
A Right to Be Forgotten? Using RPA For This Unique Application
Alongside the right to be informed, the GDPR also spells out a "right to be forgotten," meaning that businesses must be able to delete a customer from their systems altogether. It must be as if they never interacted with your company in the first place. Imagine how many personal records that could mean.
A bot can handle much of the work required to process this request. Once computer systems recognize the request as valid and from an authorized user, it can trigger an RPA bot to begin purging systems of the necessary data. In short order, all the user's personal information vanishes, and they get an alert confirming the deletion.
Have Assistance at the Ready in the Event of a Data Breach
While bots won't help you prevent data breaches, they can help you meet your notification requirements under the GDPR if one does occur. The GDPR requires you to let all affected users know when you identify a breach. Bots will help you put together and send the notification emails to keep you in compliance.
RPA Logs Can Be a Source of Valuable Forensic Data
Because RPA produces such rich logs of system events across an enterprise, it can serve a purpose outside of actually performing business operations. Auditing RPA logs through forensic analysis could help you reveal the source of a data leak or the point where a breach originated. Conducting prompt assessments of these incidents is a critical step in ensuring they don't occur again.
RPA Makes Legacy Data More Visible
Finally, because RPA accesses user interfaces the same way humans do, they are especially adept at unifying legacy systems. These systems may not "talk" with one another and in some cases, they may not even easily integrate with your main platforms. Bots keep this data within easy reach so you can control and regulate it as well.
Is RPA Secure?
Shiny new tools that make quick work of managing data, retrieving records and more are only as valuable as they are secure. You'll only find yourself back at square one if your efforts to automate elements of GDPR compliance end up exposing user data instead of keeping it under wraps. So, is RPA secure enough for working with GDPR compliance?
RPA is Not Inherently Insecure
RPA on its own is not a security risk, but the way you configure these systems influences how secure they are in practice. Bots typically require higher-level permissions to perform all the actions in their arsenal. That creates a potential for misuse by users and the risk of exploitation by outside bad actors. Sandboxing RPA bots and setting strict permissions rules go a long way toward putting your enterprise on the right footing to use automation securely.
Data Leakage: The Key Security Threat
RPA is clearly an excellent tool for GDPR compliance, but data leaks are a problem every business should consider. Leaks occur when bots don't communicate securely or place information into systems that don't have tight access controls. Even very secure business architectures may be vulnerable to penetration due to concerns such as OS-level exploits.
It is critical to set up bots to use encrypted connections and watertight credentials. Combine those efforts with robust logging, maintained in a separate specialty server. RPA has some risks, but when properly engineered, it is a secure tool for enterprise-level use.
The GPDR is a complex, multi-faceted piece of legislation that has already had far-reaching effects in the years since it came into effect. Because of the global nature of doing business today, it is a concern at some level for almost every business working at scale.
Planning for compliance and putting it into practice is an essential step, but these new requirements shouldn't have to be a burden on your books. Tools such as RPA offer straightforward pathways to achieving process improvements in this area. While RPA bots represent an excellent choice for automating some elements of GDPR compliance, they can also reveal their own shortcomings as you put them into practice.
Data that spreads throughout your business and exists beyond the scope of what a basic RPA bot does pose another challenge, but an intelligent automation framework opens up new doors. With Kofax solutions built around the principle of a unified automation environment that combines the strengths of tools such as RPA with artificial intelligence, machine learning, optical character recognition and others, building more compliant data systems that require less human intervention is a viable possibility. How will your business handle the GDPR?