Major benefits of mature data privacy and protection programs

Updated July 2023

Organizations in all industries need to put a premium on maturing data privacy programs. And in a survey, we heard that the benefits speak for themselves.

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A central component of any company’s business is customer data, and more organizations are investing time and resources into protecting the privacy of such information. Even so, companies are experiencing a rising number of privacy breaches. In fact, a 2020 study found that 66% of organizations had documented a privacy incident in the preceding three years.

Also in 2020, FairWarning (now Imprivata) and the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) surveyed individuals representing more than 550 privacy programs. The survey found that, despite new privacy regulations and increasing instances of data breaches, data protection and privacy program maturity is still a work in progress across all industries.

This post provides key takeaways from the report: Benefits, attributes and habits of mature privacy and data protection programs. Read on to learn how to improve data privacy and the many benefits of data security.

Healthcare organizations as privacy leaders

Certain industries are faring better than others when it comes to privacy and data protection maturity. This is, in large part, by necessity. For example, rules and regulations, like HIPAA, require that healthcare organizations consider privacy and data protection in all they do. For healthcare, privacy and data protection are essentially table stakes. But that doesn’t mean that other industries are off the hook. It’s critical that organizations in every industry understand the importance of data security.

What makes data protection “mature?”

To be considered “mature,” an organization should have comprehensive, fully documented and implemented privacy procedures and processes. The effectiveness of a company’s data protection tools should also be assessed on a regular basis to catch weaknesses and ensure continual improvement. In contrast, less mature programs have informal, incomplete, or inconsistently used processes and procedures.

The survey found that healthcare organizations ranked highest for program maturity levels, with 15% of organizations in the industry reporting programs in the “advanced stages” of maturity. The software and services industry followed closely with 14.3% of organizations in the advanced stages. In addition to representing the largest share of advanced stages, healthcare dominated the middle maturity stage with a 16% share (banking and software services tied at 9% each).

Companies within the government, consulting services, and education/academia industries ranked at the bottom of respondents, with less than 7% of organizations’ privacy programs in the advanced stage of maturity. Companies in the insurance and banking industries were slightly more mature, with 8.1% and 7.5% having privacy programs in the advanced stage, respectively.

Benefits of data privacy and protection program maturity

In comparing survey replies of organizations with programs in various stages of maturity, the more advanced maturity programs reported greater gains in the following areas compared with those in the early stages.

Reducing privacy complaints

In the survey, advanced maturity programs reported reduced privacy complaints as a benefit 30.3% more than did early stage respondents. And naturally, all companies should seek to keep privacy complaints to a minimum, as complaints indicate a problem with that business’s data protection. Plus, when privacy complaints become public, organizations can suffer reputational damage – customers may choose a different bank, retail store, or internet provider after they hear about a personal data leak. In fact, a 2017 survey on data protection found that companies could lose up to 55% of customers after a significant data leak.

Boosting operational efficiencies

Another benefit of data security is how it improves resource allocation and reduces waste. In our survey, companies with advanced data maturity reported boosted operational efficiencies as a benefit 23.7% more than did those in the early stages of data maturity.

Reasons this occurs include:

  • Improved data quality and database management
  • Reduced development costs
  • Improved marketing efforts and increased ROI, as more targeted databases and cleaner data allows you to know your audience better and adjust your approach
  • No lost revenue due to issues like a website going down due to a cyber breach

Mitigating data breaches

There are many reasons to prioritize data privacy, including the prevention of data breaches. The study showed that companies with advanced data maturity programs reported the benefit of greater success with mitigating data breaches 23.5% more than did companies with early stage programs. Data breaches can damage a business’s reputation, financial standing, and future potential. In addition to the loss of revenue due to stalled operations, companies and their customers can lose millions of dollars due to identity theft and fraud after a breach. Then, of course, there are the fines, legal penalties, and other associated costs.

Fostering consumer trust

Clearly, data breaches damage public image and promote mistrust. But also, strict, transparent privacy regulations go a long way towards improving and maintaining brand value. The benefit of fostering consumer trust was reported 22.3% more by companies with mature data privacy programs than those with programs in the early stages. Simply informing customers about your privacy policy, how and why their data is collected, how the data is used and how long it is kept, and who gets access to what data, helps build trust and improve brand value. Particularly when companies demonstrate that data protection efforts are made to not only comply with regulations, but also because they care about customer privacy.

Mature privacy programs foster compliance

Beyond reducing complaints and increasing efficiencies, companies with more mature privacy programs reported having greater confidence in their ability to comply with privacy and data protection regulations. Organizations with advanced privacy and data protection programs showed greater confidence in complying with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Compliance with the GDPR uncovered the most significant gap between those in the advanced stages of program development and those in the early stages — a 52% difference in confidence levels.

This confidence is crucial considering noncompliance could result in tens of millions of fines and twenty-year penalties – not to mention the legal costs of failing to comply with standards and regulations.

Basically, company data protection measures align with data privacy laws, making the benefits of data privacy measures significant on many levels.

Chart showing confidence in GDPR, HIPAA, and CCPA compliance by program maturity level.

How to improve data privacy and maturity

So how do you improve data privacy and maturity? Here are some attributes and habits that set organizations in advanced stages apart, which may help your organization.

Form a distinct privacy team

Over 61% of survey respondents with privacy programs in the advanced stages reported having a separate privacy team. These teams feature, on average, three employees exclusively focused on privacy. Those without a distinct privacy team either assign responsibility for their privacy program to teams with another primary responsibility, like security, create a team with individuals from various departments, or outsource this responsibility to a third party.

Include C-suite representation and budget ownership

Organizations with more mature privacy programs are more likely to have C-suite roles for privacy and security compared with those in the middle and early stages. This attribute may explain why most mature privacy programs also operate under a discrete budget and report privacy performance metrics to their boards at a higher rate.

Set up automated monitoring processes

Over 80% of advanced maturity programs report monitoring user activity in applications that process personal data, and 54% use automated tools to monitor that data.

Perform regular assessments, locate your PII/PHI, and train your workforce

The three categories with the greatest gap between advanced stage privacy programs and early stage respondents were:

  • Conducting regular privacy risk assessments (93% vs. 57%)
  • Knowing where sensitive information is and where it flows in and outside of your environment (88.2% vs. 60.7%)
  • Providing regular data protection and privacy training to employees (90.7% vs. 69.4%)

Data privacy excellence requires a multi-faceted approach

Organizations with privacy programs in the advanced stages of maturity reported having more functions in place than organizations with early-stage privacy programs. In fact, the majority of companies in the advanced maturity stage said their company has an incident response plan outlined and has data protection policies and procedures that are reviewed and updated regularly (95% and 96.9%, respectively). In contrast to this, fewer than 80% of companies in the early stages of maturity indicated having a response plan or continuously updating policies and procedures (79.3% and 74.8%, respectively).

Chart showing how advanced maturity organizations exceeded early and middle maturity organizations in almost every privacy program function.

Commonalities across all maturity levels

The study found that, regardless of program maturity level, there are commonalities shared between the groups. For example, more than 50% of all respondents — in all groups — said they have a separate privacy training module. Respondents across all groups reported they interact most often with the legal, information security, compliance, and IT teams. As one respondent explained, “Serving as subject matter experts to internal project teams, working with them at early stages to ensure privacy controls are built into new processes has prevented and/or reduced risk, prevented the need to do costly re-work, and helps keep customer privacy and regulatory compliance a key component in company operations.”

Additionally, when asked which element of their privacy and data protection program had the most positive impact on their organization, respondents across all stages and maturity levels ranked “increased employee privacy awareness” highly.

An advanced-stage respondent expanded upon this, stating, “Awareness increases privacy compliance as well as incident reporting, which leads to improvement where needed.” An early stages company responded, “We’re at the beginning of our program, but just having one has been beneficial. It reduced customer angst and increased privacy awareness among employees, which has improved their behavior and reduced risk.”

By centralizing the privacy organization, one of the advanced stage respondents expressed, “we have increased awareness, training, and knowledge, resulting in reduced breach incidents.”

Key takeaways

The Benefits, attributes and habits of mature privacy and data protection programs report shows that though privacy and data protection programs across all industries are still maturing, organizations recognize the value of data privacy. And in today’s world, where data holds immense value, they also realize the intrinsic responsibility they have to create a robust data protection program, continuously update it, and educate employees on the importance of privacy and data protection.