It’s been more than a year since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became law, and some businesses that have fallen short of its stipulations are suffering the penalties.

This summer, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) made its first public announcements of its intention to levy fines under the GDPR, with British Airways now facing a £183.39m fine following a cyber-attack that exposed customer details and Marriott International facing a fine of £99.2m.

Under the law, the ICO can impose fines of up to four per cent of global turnover or the equivalent of €20m, whichever is greater. With such significant penalties in play, it’s essential that manufacturers ensure they’re in full compliance.

However, from our own research we know that many in the sector are struggling to manage a rise in data access requests following the GDPR’s implementation – a situation that could land them in the regulator’s sights.

Opening up

The GDPR gives individuals the right to submit data access requests to receive copies of the information organisations hold on them, as well as explanations on factors such as why organisations are using it. They can also request that their data be erased. In general, organisations must respond to requests within just one month.

In the 12 months following the GDPR’s implementation, our research – carried out just over a year after the legislation’s introduction in May 2018 – found that three quarters (75%) of manufacturers had experienced a rise in data access requests from their customers and employees.

Strikingly, 92% of those that had seen an increase had faced difficulties in effectively responding. When asked why, respondents pointed to complexity (58%) and cost (58%) as their most significant hurdles. For a third (33%), a reliance on paper documentation was an obstacle.

With this in mind, a potentially powerful solution for manufacturers looking to improve their ability to respond to data access requests could be found in digitisation – ensuring that physical documentation is digitally accessible.

GDPR - and beyond

Although our research found that GDPR compliance and improving data privacy were manufacturers’ primary drivers for digitisation in the 12 months before and after the GDPR’s introduction, just 12% of those we spoke to had digitised all of the paper documentation they held in the year since May 2018.

Maintaining digital archives of paper documentation can help businesses more effectively respond to data access requests, ensuring that staff members across an organisation can quickly source the information they need – a key consideration given the GDPR’s time constraints.

But for manufacturers, the advantages can stretch well beyond compliance.

In a landscape marked by the advances of Industry 4.0, digitisation can support efforts to build increasingly integrated digital production processes by helping ensure that valuable information contained in paper documentation can be digitally leveraged across a businesses’ operations.

It can also support their wider investment priorities.

In the year following the GDPR, improving productivity (40%) and introducing new equipment or technologies (40%) were at the top of our respondents’ investment agendas.

Digitising documentation could help manufacturers free up funds invested in archival space – a barrier cited by 42% of our respondents that hadn’t digitised all of their documentation after the GDPR. This saving could, in turn, be re-invested in new machinery.

Meanwhile, applying technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence could help free up staff time, or reduce the need to commit valuable human resources to the digitisation process. From our research, we know that a lack of staff resource was referenced by 39% as a barrier to digitisation in the year after the GDPR’s arrival.

At Parseq, we use technologies such as optical character recognition and robotics process automation (RPA) to help our clients create indexed, secure, digital archives of physical documentation, while also helping reduce cost – our respondents’ most cited barrier to pursuing full digitisation post-GDPR.

With the consequences for GDPR non-compliance so high, manufacturers must ensure that they can respond to data access requests as effectively as possible. Digitisation offers a potentially powerful solution – one that can help manufacturers drive productivity, efficiency and reduce costs, while avoiding a heavy fine.