The importance of ‘free-flowing’ data

As we settle into a new world post-Brexit and we start to contemplate both the opportunities and the challenges that lie ahead, I’ve been thinking about this from my own company’s perspective.

To my mind, our modern economy cannot thrive unless we have an open, borderless world, especially when it comes to data. While I know it is tough for regulations to keep pace with frequent changes in order to facilitate the free flow of data, I believe there is an immediate concern around international data flows. Organisations have already experienced what happened in terms of Safe Harbour and the impact this has had on the free flow of data between the EU and the US since the European Court of Justice declared the Safe Harbour framework invalid. Now our attention has turned to what could happen in terms of the UK’s relationship with the EU and how this might affect future data flow agreements between the UK, EU and the US. Whatever happens, data needs to flow freely between the UK and rest of the world.

That said, this is not just a tech issue; it impacts the whole services sector. In fact, I would go as far as saying that failure to secure the free flow of data could be one of the biggest trade barriers facing the UK economy in a post-Brexit world. Therefore, we must find a way to align with the rules of our near markets in Europe on data protection. If we don’t, we risk failing EU data protection adequacy assessments and finding ourselves cut off from these markets.   We simply can’t allow this to happen and organisations must understand the enormity of this data challenge, in terms of both priority and consequence. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), Equivalency, Adequacy and Privacy Shields are incredibly important if the UK is going to remain a world-leading connected digital economy.

At iland, what we have found is that the preference for data centre locations (and data) in and outside of the UK tends to go both ways, and we foresee this trend continuing in this post Brexit world. Just as we’ve had companies within the UK request additional locations in other European countries as part of their expansion plans, we’ve had many EMEA customers outside the UK turn to our London and Manchester data centres to operate. Brexit has only been a minor part of these conversations because we are very explicit about our commitment to data sovereignty, regulatory compliance and security, and cloud customers need that level of transparency to remain confident in today’s market.

At the same time, we’ve been actively evaluating additional locations in European countries as a result of customer demand – even prior to Brexit. And while Brexit hasn’t triggered a shift in our expansion strategy, it will likely accelerate our timeline. The reality is that cloud customers consistently struggle to understand data protection laws, particularly because the laws are frequently in flux, as per my comments above. At iland, we believe that cloud providers must adapt to customer preferences and evolving regulations, and that is what we will continue to do in order to give customers the services they want, where they want them.

I was recently asked about the impact of Privacy Shield, the new EU/US framework set to replace Safe Harbour, on the free flow of data and how this will pan out post the EU Referendum. Will this be overturned or deemed invalid in the same way that Safe Harbour was? With all regulations, the market generally expects legal battles of some sort and the Privacy Shield issue is no different. At the risk of oversimplifying, companies must plan instead of panicking, especially post-Brexit. The reality is that these regulations are put in place to safeguard companies, and following the requirements, ensure a solid foundation for protecting vendors and customers alike. At iland, we operate under extensive regulatory and governance controls, inclusive of the upcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and we will operate under Privacy Shield unless the market requirements officially change.

As the UK breaks away from the EU, it is now more important than ever for us to differentiate and make the UK more attractive globally. The quality of our digital infrastructure including fixed broadband, mobile, cloud and data centres becomes very important to a successful Brexit strategy. Post Brexit, there is a real desire to make the UK a more attractive place to undertake business innovation and cloud service providers have a role to play in supporting this. Equally, the free flow of data both in and out of the UK will be vitally important to our competitive standing on the global stage. But at the same time, that data must be protected and it must adhere to strict regulations and controls, no matter where the data resides, and that will be one of the most important aspects going forward for sourcing and selecting a cloud service provider. 

Monica Brink, Director of Marketing EMEA, iland