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Data trends predictions for 2021

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(Image credit: Shutterstock / Gorodenkoff)

Emerging data sources, remote work, privacy regulations and governance all collided in unexpected ways over the last year. As organizations and their IT teams prepare for another wave of challenges in 2021, the new role of data in every facet of business will become a central focus. Information governance, privacy, e-discovery and other data experts across FTI Consulting’s Technology segment have compiled a range of predictions for the data trends that will be the most important to watch in the coming year.

Chris Zohlen, a Managing Director within FTI Technology said, “Emerging data sources that have become integral to enabling remote work will continue to create challenges for information governance. Through 2021, companies will struggle to adopt policies and controls for these platforms and ensure they are addressing the data risks that come from widespread use of Microsoft Teams, Slack and other cloud applications.”

Additional predictions include:

1)            “In 2021, organizations are going to face the dual challenge of a continued increase in ransomware incidents alongside increased complexity and global regulation around data privacy. Regulatory penalties are likely to become more severe, which will raise the stakes for security and compliance professionals to maintain strong data protection. More, as workforces continue to stay home—some for the long-term—organizations will increasingly move to cloud-based services and SaaS models. The result will be increasing dissolution of network borders and a wider net of third-party providers that organizations must assess to ensure adequate security and privacy controls. This will also prompt more countries to release guidelines for certification to store their data and remain in compliance with data protection regulations.” – Jon Ringler, Vice President, Security, Risk & Compliance

2)            Organizations will be much more open to leveraging the technology and resources they already have to solve new challenges in innovative ways. Building targeted solutions that adapt existing technologies and making better use of established platforms will be especially appealing as teams face budgetary constraints and operational concerns arising from Covid-19.” – Jon Chan, Senior Managing Director

3)            “The Covid-19 pandemic and widespread remote workforces have been catalysts for companies to realize they don’t have effective information governance practices in place. Now, organizations will have a heightened level of interest in governance related initiatives. Even among organizations that already have a program, the shift to remote work has surfaced many gaps in current information governance and privacy practices, which will call for additional investments in addressing new exposures.” – Melissa Cohen, Director

4)            "2020 was the year that cloud collaboration tools were recognized by legal teams as a source of discoverable content, and soon, their processes will start to catch up. As part of this, legal e-discovery teams will spend considerable time in 2021 sifting through the massive amount of data generated in growing new information sources like Slack, Teams and Zoom. Agile teams will combine tailored workflows with technology enhancements to leading review platform technologies to accomplish discovery objectives." – Tim Anderson, Managing Director

5)            “Several interesting trends will begin to materialize in the technology space. For one, anywhere operations and turbo-charged digital transformation will drive multi-cloud and managed service adoption. The economic crunch will also drive an uptick M&A activity, in turn drawing increased scrutiny from competition authorities on big tech and data use and sharing. I think we’ll also see Data Protection Authorities increasingly focusing on data subject rights and automating privacy controls on data.” – Sonia Cheng, Senior Managing Director

Cloud-powered world

6)            “With the increased use of applications such as Slack and Microsoft Teams and other cloud-based services, companies are now dealing with a much larger and more diverse pool of data sources that may need to be collected for evidence in legal matters and investigations. For digital forensic investigators, this means new challenges in accessing data that has been encrypted in transit and at rest and preserving metadata that may contain important pieces of evidence. Similarly, increased adoption of mobile messaging encryption will introduce additional barriers that make it difficult for investigators to recover information. As a result, organizations will need to ensure their legal and compliance teams have access to the most up-to-date forensic tools and engage with investigators who understand how to navigate the challenges of mining evidence from these new data sources.” – Megan Danilek, Senior Consultant, FTI Technology

7)            “In a Covid world, delivery for everything and subscribing to multiple streaming media services has led to a lot of customer growth for companies in these industries. As a result, data privacy is going to become an even larger issue in 2021 as more consumers will want to ensure that the companies delivering their food, groceries and entertainment are good stewards of personal information. I think we’ll see instances where the rush to implement new business models to stay afloat will lead to the unintended disclosure of personal information. At the same time, with federal and state agencies starving for income, there will be an uptick in tax, banking, privacy and other audits of large companies. Organizations that have already stepped up to understand, manage and protect the personal information under their umbrella will be better positioned.” – John Goff, Senior Director

8)            “An increasing number of health care organizations, especially medical device companies, are moving to cloud-based solutions and technologies. This changes their operating paradigm and exposes them to more regulatory risk as processors or controllers of personal information. In the coming year, these companies will be looking for ways to both ensure security and privacy of this information, as well as ways they can leverage it to enhance their businesses.” – Tom Hiney, Director

9)            “Technologies like MS Teams, Zoom, Slack and other collaboration platforms will play a larger role in investigations in 2021, and teams will start to feel the pain of how to integrate them into their investigations and e-discovery workflows. I think undoubtedly one day we’ll see one of these ‘emerging’ sources become the centerpiece of a dispute over spoliation stemming from a litigant failing to preserve relevant communications on these platforms.” – Dan Roffman, Senior Managing Director

10)          “Many states will introduce or expand data privacy laws, and with the change in administration, the federal government will feel some pressure to take a closer look at a federal privacy legislation. Also, under existing laws such as CCPA, CPRA and HIPAA, we’re likely to see an increase in legal and regulatory activity around privacy rights—especially among employees concerned about what their employers are doing with personal health data that has been collected as part of Covid response, screening and tracing.” – Deana Uhl, Managing Director

Jake Frazier, Senior Managing Director, FTI Consulting

Jake Frazier is a Senior Managing Director at FTI Consulting and heads the Information Governance, Privacy & Security practice within the Technology segment. Mr. Frazier helps legal, records, information technology and information security departments to identify, develop, evaluate and implement in-house electronic discovery and information governance processes, programs and solutions.