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We’ve all heard the saying that “every company is a software company” at some point during the last few years. But recently there’s a new saying that: “every company is a cloud and data company.” It makes sense — data is driving an explosion in insights, innovation and cloud use, with cloud spending expected to surpass $1.3 trillion by 2025. Because cloud is now the default expectation of conducting business, the rules have changed — and businesses need to work with new regulatory hurdles and obstacles to innovate. Luckily, we know how to move forward quickly based on what worked in the past: low-code/no-code solutions.

Where we started

To succeed as software companies, businesses used to need to hire enough people to write code, creating a limit to their growth. This skills gap initially forced companies to hire expensive consultants to come in, tell them where technology could improve service or increase sales, scope the software needed and then deliver it – certainly not a cheap or quick process.  

Companies eventually overcame this hurdle with low-code and no-code tools — software that could write the code for users and thus democratize operations previously only carried out by IT professionals. For example, building websites used to require HTML and Java coding experience, but over the past five years, low- and no-code tools have helped end-users speed up that process and improve operations on the business side. When typos and coding failures don’t have to be catastrophes that IT professionals must spend all their time chasing, and those tools are in the hands of all users across the business, working with data in the cloud becomes much easier and more efficient. 

Yet these tools have typically been limited to creating applications and using established processes, rather than dealing with significant threats to today’s businesses — data governance and risk.

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Why data-driven progress bumped up against privacy regulations  

Today’s businesses create and store vast amounts of enterprise and customer data. They now have personal information on hundreds of millions of users and data on how, where and when they use software. Digital data on healthcare, financial information, logistics and shipping, ecommerce, security and more can easily be collected and stored.

While companies race to utilize this resource for business, they face a new hindrance: data privacy regulations. New regional laws directing the sharing of PII, PHI and PCI data are being passed and updated at a rapid pace, with little consideration for consistent global standards. These regulations, from GDPR to CCPA, include expensive penalties for data leaks or misuse — in California’s privacy act, for example, fines range from $2,500 to $7,500 per record.

For example, direct-to-consumer companies have had to adapt to both GDPR and CCPA fairly quickly in order to preserve customer trust. Functional nutrition company HumanN was concerned about complying with GDPR and other regulatory requirements around PII to avoid potential fines and reputational damage. And both HumanN’s CEO, Joel Kocher, and the company’s smaller data team recognized the need for a no-code solution that could provide business value in hours or days, not months or years. They ultimately chose easy-to-implement technology that integrated with their cloud-based ecosystem ensured that data was being reviewed responsibly and access closely controlled. 

Many companies today may be early in their data governance journey, but they’ll soon run up against a skills gap equivalent to the coding gap, unless they invest in the tools that make compliance achievable regardless of technical skill.  

No-code, low-code software enables self-service data governance and quicker data-driven insight

The good news is that we already know the solution: create tools that allow non-technical users to roll out and manage a data governance solution themselves. Businesses have adapted to digital transformation with low-code and no-code approaches before. Rather than applying it to software, in this case, they need to expand it to their entire cloud and governance infrastructure. 

What makes this adaptation possible? Technology that works within the hybrid and multi-cloud framework and doesn’t require new infrastructure or code to set things up. This technology democratizes the governance process across the organization and reduces the stress of adapting to regulatory changes. 

With this strategy, data engineers and admins can hand off the tedious process of setting up policy-based data controls and updating and managing them over time to non-technical teams, coming in to handle only the most difficult of tasks. No one needs to know SQL, Apache Ranger or YAML — data governance teams or any other non-coders can activate governance policies and controls themselves and update them quickly, as needed. The process not only becomes faster, it also becomes less error prone. Those responsible for governance can see that policies are working correctly with their own eyes, and they can adjust immediately if there’s something off — just like the marketing team can jump in to fix a typo on the website.

For HumanN, visibility into data consumption underscored a previously identified issue: lack of clarity caused by using the same role for multiple purposes. For example, a superuser role for the database was used by BI tools to extract data, by sales channels to import data, and the database admins to do queries and make changes to the database.  

The engineers thus faced a serious problem: a lack of accurate analysis on data consumption. Investing in low-code data controls allowed them to understand access to data administration and sharing roles and create custom compliance rules to control them. 

What’s next?

With this approach, anyone across the company who would like to derive insight from sensitive and regulated data, including on the business side, can implement data controls and protections to use that data safely and in compliance with regulations. With no-code data governance tools, companies can get value out more quickly of data and become the “data companies” they need to be.

Companies should look for low-code/no-code tools, create a work culture that emphasizes that everyone is responsible for data privacy and security and provide the tools to enable everyone to take action. We’ve tackled the coding challenge before when it came to building technology and learned how to adapt. Now, we must do the same with governance.

James Beecham is cofounder and CTO of ALTR.

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