As the 1990’s came to a close there was fear: What would happen to computer systems when the clock struck midnight on the 31st December 1999?
Nightmares about planes falling out of the sky and nuclear arms being accidentally launched ensued. Fortunes were spent trying to prepare for and mitigate against the potential disasters that midnight might bring. There was Y2K expert on every corner with extortionate fees and ready advice too.
In the run up to 25th May 2018 with new wide-reaching regulation pending, a similar experience was felt by many.
Y2K and the launch of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are similar in the fact that they both had inflexible deadlines (there was no way that the 1st January 2000 was going to wait…no matter how hard anyone tried!) and most importantly, both events forced organisations to innovate and change the way that they do things.
According to Forbes, companies around the world spent an estimated $300 to $500 billion to address the anticipated problems that would occur when our clocks rolled over from 1999 to 2000. Two decades later and GDPR came along. Whilst the world’s 500 biggest corporations are on track to spend a total of miserly $7.8 billion to comply with GDPR, relatively speaking of course, according to consultants Ernst & Young, the ongoing costs and obligations of the regulations will probably remain invisible.
GDPR readiness evoked similar fervour and anxiety to Y2K. We were told of grave consequences that firms caught up in GDPR breaches could face material penalties we all understood that failure to comply would undoubtedly mean big trouble, so much so that reactions from some organisations were dramatic. According to the Financial Times, immediately after GDPR came into effect, several businesses turned to drastic measures to avoid the penalties of non-compliance, suspending their services in Europe, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and apps including Unroll.me, which helps users unsubscribe from email spam.
GDPR in fact provided us with a catalyst to bring data practices into alignment with the realities of the modern world. Pushing organisations to evaluate and improve the handling, security and control of the information they are entrusted with. As with Y2K which transformed the tech industry, demanding an overhaul of hardware, software and procedures at an unprecedented rate and scale both GDPR and Y2K kick-started something that might never have occurred otherwise.
Never to be seen as an ‘event’ that we all worked towards, GDPR differs from the Y2K event horizon in that the need for vigilance didn’t just end on 25th May 2018. An evolutionary addition to business, it requires persistent effort as organisations will be expected to continue to identify and address emerging privacy and security risks in the months and years beyond. Many are still undergoing systems reviews but feel less urgency than they did a few months ago. Projects continue to mature and change is a constant feature of business now.
So Y2K and GDPR are good things, right? Yes, absolutely. Like all initiatives of this type they do create rogue behaviours; an industry of temporary experts provide unsolicited advice and offer their services for hire, but they have on the whole driven change, and that’s change for the better. As we woke up on 29th May to conduct business in the new GDPR lead world, little did we realise that we were potentially embarking on a new business era. Marked by the need for constant innovation to keep up with constant change, this new corporate culture could be just the start of a very exciting journey for us all.
• Dante Disparte, Contributor, Digital Money: Forbes, May 3rd 2018
• Roman Stanek, Community Voice, Forbes Technology Council “Is GDPR the next Y2K?” December 14th 2017
• Aliya Ram and Hannah Murphy in London July 2, 2018: “Companies under strain from GDPR requests” Financial Times.
• Will Peakin: Why GDPR is not Y2K, May 17, 2018/ Business, Features, Legal and Financial, Future Scot.
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