Your professional future looks bright if you are able to take advantage of changing business conditions

By Mike Spinney, CIPP

If you had asked David Hoffman last year to bet on the prospects of the privacy profession, he would have declined the offer. The economy was faltering, many data-centric industries, such as financial services, were shedding jobs, and there was plenty of talk about how the narrow focus of the privacy function had made the position expendable at too many companies.

Hoffman, CIPP, director of security policy and global privacy officer at Intel Corporation, said that such worries made sense at the time, but that in retrospect, it seems those fears were unfounded. The focus on the troubled financial services industry, Hoffman observed, may have skewed perceptions.

“Given what the financial sector has gone through in the last 18 months, I’m not sure you can draw any meaningful conclusions,” he said.

Instead, Hoffman pointed to a growth in membership at the International Association of Privacy Professionals and wondered if that might be a better barometer with which to gauge the health of the privacy profession. According to IAPP Executive Director J. Trevor Hughes, membership in the association surged from about 5,000 to 6,200 between 2008 and 2009.

Leading voices in the profession also believe that concerns over privacy’s marginalization are unfounded. In fact, the opposite seems to be happening. Instead of seeing the privacy function being fragmented and absorbed into other corporate disciplines, such as legal and security, there seems to be recognition that a well-rounded privacy officer can be a strategic asset to companies that handle and manage an abundance of personally identifiable information (PII).

Brian O’Connor, CIPP, chief security and privacy officer for Eastman Kodak Company, examplifies that trend. His role combines responsibilities previously held by a chief information security officer (CISO), chief privacy officer (CPO), and director of worldwide corporate security.

O’Connor observed that today’s privacy professional has an opportunity to take on a “bigger role in a company where business is dealing with personal data.” Highlighting companies heavily involved in financial, pharmaceutical, and medical services, O’Connor said the privacy professional’s role is likely to be proportionate to the value personal data has in an organization. Conversely, O’Connor said that, for companies that deal with very little PII outside of employee data, the privacy role may well be shifted to human resources or within compliance.

“Every company has to balance what types of data are critical to operations and how much money they need to invest in data protection,” he said, offering that the expertise and experience a privacy professional brings to the discussion may well shift to focus on developing strategies and processes for protecting against physical theft, identity fraud, intellectual property loss, or data theft.

Meanwhile, O’Connor said that the well-rounded privacy professional can also increase his or her value within the organization by paying attention to technical and cultural trends and identifying new risks to the integrity of data.

Cloud computing and social networking are two prominent trends affecting many companies today, he says, and understanding their potential threat to personal information or intellectual property is essential to preventing a data-loss event.
“I’m spending a lot of time talking [about cloud computing] with IT security as we test our ability to put certain applications in the cloud,” O’Connor explained. He said there may be a tendency for some organizations to rush into adopting cloud computing to take advantage of certain efficiencies, without giving proper consideration to the risks.

“As we test and evaluate, we’re focusing on applications that tend to not contain any personal data,” he said, adding that social networking presents a different set of risks. “With social networking, I’m setting policy.”

At Kodak, O’Connor says there’s a realization that employees with Internet access are likely to use that access to check up on their networks via Facebook or Twitter, for example. But marketing departments are also exploring the ways these utilities can be used to engage the public.

“We’re encouraging employees to use it in a positive way; networking with people—customers and colleagues—and to have positive, honest exchanges with people,” O’Connor said, adding that he’s developed a toolkit for employees that provides advice and highlights the risks involved with social networking.

Ultimately, the privacy professional’s value is what he or she makes of the experience by broadening his or her scope of understanding and looking for ways to creatively apply knowledge and expertise to new challenges.

Harriet Pearson, CIPP, vice president security counsel and chief privacy officer with IBM said she believes today’s privacy professional must be able to strike the appropriate balance between information and technology, and that the balance will be different in each situation.

“The relationship between technology and privacy professionals is converging, converging on a common vocabulary, and that’s a good thing,” Pearson said. “It’s about the information and the network.”

Finding the balance is the key to strategic information management, Pearson said, explaining that while security is a key aspect of managing data, there must also be consideration for those who need to access and use that information for legitimate business reasons. Privacy professionals can draw on their understanding to help make the information management dialogue richer and more productive.

The good news for those who are taking stock of their situation is that Hoffman, O’Connor, and Pearson all agree—there are tremendous opportunities for privacy professionals to advance in a fulfilling career, and those opportunities are what the individual makes of them.

As for Hoffman, if offered another wager on the future of the privacy profession, he says: “I’d take that bet.”

Mike Spinney, principal of the strategic communications consultancy SixWeight, is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP), a member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, and serves as co-chair of the IAPP’s Boston KnowledgeNet chapter. A senior privacy analyst with the Ponemon Institute, Spinney is a frequent author and speaker on data privacy issues. He has addressed audiences at the Privacy Summit, Secure Boston, Secure Chicago, IAPP/ISC(2) Security Series, SecureWorld, and INTERPHEX.

Rounding out your expertise

Looking to bolster your privacy resume and break out of the silo? Here are some areas in which to build additional expertise:

Physical Security – an emphasis on the security of digital assets often results in a diminishment of the role physical security plays in the overall data security picture.
Intellectual Property – Understanding how organizations manage and protect intellectual property can help to better manage and protect personally identifiable information. And shouldn’t you consider PII IP anyway?

Technology Trends – Technical innovation is a moving target, but keeping on top of trends and understanding their impact on security can help a company avoid learning the hard way. Yesterday’s collaborative platform is today’s cloud computing is tomorrow’s unknown. Don’t let the pressure to innovate impair sound data management judgment.

Social Networking – Blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter… these utilities and many others are not going away. Understand their benefits and risks and you’ll be better prepared to think strategically about how your company can safely utilize them in today’s business arena.

Interdepartmental Collaboration – Talk with your colleagues in human resources, marketing, legal, IT, facilities management, and other departments to learn their role in data privacy, security, and management. Offer yourself as a resource.

Identify Cost Benefits – Identify and quantify the ways your efforts are helping to save money and make those calculations part of your dialogue with management.


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