How BT used GDPR to get its data in order

BT's data governance director Horia Selegean outlines how the British telco used the looming GDPR regulation to boost its big data capabilities

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BT

In the months and years leading up to the GDPR implementation date, one looming issue for businesses preparing for the stringent data regulation was in knowing exactly where their data was located.

Imagine wanting to secure your valuables at home, but you didn't know what you owned or where any of the stuff you did know about was. Some of the most prescient pre-GDPR advice was for organisations to take the impending regulation as an opportunity to audit their data, tighten up their policies, instituting best practices, and actively mitigating against the potential for stinging fines should companies be found not to have taken adequate measures to secure data.

That was precisely BT's plan, explained data governance director at the huge British telecoms and managed services firm, Horia Selegean.

About 18 months ago, BT was searching for a vendor that would help it manage and process the vast amount of data that it generates, and to draw out operational benefits internally as well as for its customers. The firm got talking with Pentaho, the analytics wing of Hitachi Vantara, which Hitachi acquired for $500 million in 2015. Selegean found that it was "the best in terms of the technical capabilities as well as the people involved in the process", beating four unnamed competitors in the process.

"In terms of why we chose Pentaho, it was around the features, the quality of the engagement, it was the whole package," he added, speaking at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas this week during Hitachi Vantara's flagship Next conference.

"What I say to everyone is: I don't care about the technology itself, I care a lot about how to actually take it to life and how to take it to market, because if you don't have the right operating model around it, you can buy the best software, but if you don't know how to use it, it's useless.

"For me, everything is about outcomes, it's about value. It's all about really clear business outcomes and business goals and objectives – technology is a means to achieve those objectives. I'm not that precious about the technology side, I'm precious about the how and the what, in terms of what we do."

BT and Hitachi Vantara – which was created as a new firm in 2017 rolling together Hitachi Data Systems, Hitachi Insight Group and Pentaho into a single business – have been partners since 2017 when they announced a joint initiative to collaborate on enterprise IoT and the industrial internet of things.

Now, Selegean's priorities are around "building and strengthening our data governance" and "really putting more focus into the data that we use for analytics, and internal and external analysis".

He recounted how GDPR provided the company with a "very, very good opportunity" to invest in understanding where all of its data was, across "every single corner" of the organisation.

"Now we have a very good understanding of what we're dealing with," he said, "and it enables us to drive a very effective transformation programme. To simplify the data, reduce the amount of data, so you don't need to duplicate, govern, document, put the metadata in place to really step up the analytics capabilities, the insight, and the automation for customers.

"All that is to make our life easier and our customers' lives easier, and really drive the best outcome for everyone."

The elephant in the room is, of course, Brexit. While Britain has said that it will mirror GDPR guidelines, its status as a safe country to promote the free exchange of data with is currently in question.

However, Selegean suggests that BT is not worried.

"This is not just a BT challenge," he stressed. "From our perspective we are preparing for all eventualities... we have scenarios, like everyone else, and we are ready to adopt one or the other depending on which way it's going. I think there's been a lot of preparation... we had three years to prepare."

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