“Experts built the Titanic didn’t they?”

Astronomer or Astronaut - who has the most experience in space

Astronaut in outer space over the planet earth.

Over the last twenty-four months there’s been a lot of dialogue and feverish activity in some quarters surrounding the introduction of the new European data protection regulations (known as GDPR), the aim of which is the safeguarding of personal data in a business context. During this time, I’ve come across a variety of business responses that follow several marketing models, from those who rapidly adopt anything and everything that’s new to support their business positioning, through to those who significantly lag behind.

I’ve spoken with a Chairman who believes it’ll be nothing more than a damp squib, likening it to Y2K, other large operators that ignored it until the last two months prior to introduction, some who have copied Privacy Policies which were themselves plagiarised (including links back to the originator’s website) and others who ‘in order to grow’, openly or ignorantly abused personal data with frequent Data Protection Act and PECR infringements. Consequently, this vast array of attitudes as led to the growth of many ‘Experts’ in the new regulation.

I have been fortunate to have been asked by several clients to support them with readying their businesses for GDPR, so that they could face whatever challenges they may encounter head-on and with confidence. But unlike others I elected not to qualify in this field (for various reasons I’ll not bore you with at this stage) but would instead make sure I knew as much about the regulations as I possibly could.

As a professional marketer my role is to help safeguard my clients’ business, their staff and their customer’s data, all particularly relevant points for any marketer, but I wasn’t comfortable with the notion of calling myself an ‘expert’ because the regulations were completely new – everyone was learning together. Yes, I’d read the ‘Reg’s’ and the numerous Recitals that accompanied them, cover to cover and back again many times over. But I wasn’t an ‘expert’, merely someone who’d been afforded the time in my role to understand the implications and then apply them to the business models that over time I’d got to know well. It reminded me of a comment that BBC Presenter, Broadcaster and Journalist, Jeremy Vine shared, when I was a guest of his and the Chartered Institute of Marketing. “People divide into astronomers and astronauts – those who look at the moon and those who walk on it”, “(Radio) Listeners do the walking, they are not experiencing life through a telescope, they are actually living it”. He later commented that a listener once rang in to ‘prove this theory’ by saying, “didn’t ‘experts’ build the Titanic”?

GDPR, at least at this stage isn’t being driven by any ‘experts’, it’s being driven by people who have taken time to understand the ‘Regs’ and apply appropriate processes within the firms they consult, at least that’s true in my case. Preparing companies for GDPR has been all about the experience gained as we’ve progressed to a point where we are all more than satisfied with the results of our labours, either through the additional technical systems we’ve commissioned and integrated, the staff we’ve needed to educate or the associated Privacy Policies we’ve authored.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against experts, far from it, businesses need the support of people who have taken time to get to know their way around things. But my own thoughts on this come from the stance that being an expert in a field must also rely on being experienced too and that can’t truly be the case with something as new as GDPR (introduced less than one month ago), unless you’ve been heavily involved in both the technical data systems development that must sit behind any company required to meet the Regulations, or been involved across all the departmental layers and the personnel involved, from retail store to head office, from shop assistant to managing director. You can’t as one person asked of me “just compose me a Privacy Policy” when he wasn’t willing for me to assess how he truly manages customer data within his business (so I refused). For the letter of the law to be applied with any piece of regulation, you must have the experience to see what impacts it will have and what changes you need to propose.

If you would like to explore this further or enlist my help, please feel free to get in touch with by sending an email to me, Nigel Davis.

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