The Benefits of a Virtual DPO

Why do you need a DPO?

Under Article 37 of GDPR, if you’re a public authority, or are involved in the processing/collection/storage of personal data of EU citizens e.g. race, ethnicity, religion, address, etc. then it is now mandatory that you get a DPO.

DPO’s (Data Protection Officers) are usually be appointed for every public authority, and are essentially responsible for ensuring that company’s – and their employees – are educated and adhere to GDPR requirements.

By overseeing a company’s data protection strategy; conducting regular security audits; training staff in compliance and data processing, and ensuring that its implementation remains conforms with GDPR requirements; they can make sure that all data is 100% safely stored and is only ever used when legally necessary.

DPOs also:

  • Act as a point of contact for the company’s Supervisory Authorities (who oversee all activities relating to data).
  • Maintain comprehensive records of all data processing activities performed by the company.
  • Monitor performance/give advice on the impact of data protection endeavours.
  • Interface with data subjects, informing them of: how their data is being used; their rights to having personal data erased and what measures the company have put into place to ensure that their personal data remains protected.

Yet even if your company doesn’t fall into the ‘mandatory’ category, it is still a good idea to employ a DPO.

Not only can they lend you advice, guidance and support on how to proactively manage personal information; their presence will also show the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – and your business partners – that you are 100% committed to using data protection frameworks that are fully compliant with GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018.

And this is important because should you fail to adhere to GDPR, you could receive a hefty fine of up to a €10 million or 2% of your annual global turnover. Similarly, failure to report to a regulatory body (within 72 hours) of any harm being done to a data subject or their fundamental rights, could result in you getting into some serious trouble.

So as you can see, their presence can instantly help to put you at ease, as they will handle the whole reporting process i.e. revealing how the breach occurred; the number of people affected, and the amount/type of data concerned, etc. If anything, they will find it easier to access this information (compared to you) as they’ll have greater rights.

Now, it is important to point out here that the size of your organisation will not influence your need for a DPO – although small businesses rarely need to hire a DPO unless their core focus is data collection/storage. What matters most is the size and breadth of the personal data that you’re handling.

What is a virtual DPO?

Whilst organisations are advised to employ a DPO, this doesn’t mean they have to be a full-time employee. In fact, choosing to outsource and hire a virtual DPO can save you money as they can easily carry out the duties of a DPO but offsite/away from your business.

In fact, under Article 37 it is perfectly possible to share a DPO with other businesses as long as they are easily accessible.

And this is great news for businesses, as not only can hiring a virtual DPO save you on the cost of appointing someone full-time; it also gives you greater freedom to hire a DPO with specific skillsets, whilst eliminating the DPO shortage problem (that has arisen from businesses needing DPOs with the correct skills).

Things to consider when hiring a virtual DPO:

You must ensure that there is no conflict of interest. This means they need to be given the freedom to independently carry out their tasks and duties (away for interference), so that they can remain objective.

To prevent costs from escalating (due to hourly rates); it is important that any tasks that are outsourced are organised in advance. This will stop you from unnecessarily paying out for them to attend a long meeting where they are only needed to talk about data protection for a few minutes. Instead, you can arrange more focused meetings where particular issues are addressed and you get your full money’s worth.

Look for virtual DPOs who clearly outline their responsibilities, tasks and agreed upon rates (upfront). By agreeing on their assigned tasks in advance e.g. providing gap analysis reports; giving advice on policy/procedures; reviewing privacy policies (at agreed intervals); organising GDPR training, etc.; you can ensure that their services remain cost effective.

Benefits of a virtual DPO

There is no denying that GDPR has created stricter rules (surrounding personal data) that are not only more complex, but incredibly time consuming. The stricter they become, the more careful you’ll have to be to ensure that you’re fully compliant and not at risk of facing large fines.

This leaves you will two choices: hiring a full-time DPO to ensure that you remain in full control of the management and safeguarding of data. Or you can entrust the job to a virtual DPO who can do all of the above – as and when you need them – but at a fraction of the cost.

And this is the thing to remember – even if they aren’t present within your company 24/7; as a virtual DPO they still have to perform the same tasks as a full time one.

But that is not the only benefit you can expect by choosing to use a virtual DPO. They also come with the added bonus of:

    1. No added costs – typically an in-house DPO would receive a monthly salary plus training to keep them at the top of their game. This isn’t necessary with a virtual DPO as their income will be a set fee, and their training will be their own responsibility. In fact, it is the provider of the virtual DPOs service who is responsible for making sure that they stay up to date with changes to GDPR and other data regulations.This also protects your business from fines or reputation damage caused by GDPR issues. Plus, their high level of expertise will enable you to build a strong understanding of your data protection position.
    2. Cost effective – we’ve mentioned the cost effectiveness of virtual DPOs a few times, but to help paint a clearer picture here are the facts:- You will probably only need the assistance of a DPO for a set number of hours every month. There is no need for them to be present 9am-5pm every day. This means you can easily outsource your data protection needs and minimise your costs as you’ll be able to control how much you use them every month and pay them only for the times you need them.
    3. Easier to find virtual DPOs with relevant skills and experience – updates to GDPR have increased the demand for DPOs, which sadly there aren’t enough of. Outsourcing to a virtual DPO not only enables multiple businesses to use the same DPO; it is also easier for you to find specialist DPOs who’ve got the skills and the experience to deal with your particular business.
    4. Freedom to concentrate on running your business – you can focus on what matters most – helping your business to succeed – rest assured you’ve got an impartial third party on hand to lend advice and handle any data protection issues.
    5. A virtual DPOs job is to provide you with honest, ethical and confidential guidance – there will be no overlay between the difference businesses they assist.
    6. Completely unbiased and objective in their work – quite often in-house DPOs are asked to carry out other duties – outside of their DPO role – yet this can prove to be very difficult because of the strict guidelines surrounding their role (which requires them to remain objective and independent of your business). By assisting your organisation in other areas, this could create a conflict of interest.With virtual DPOs there is none of this risk, as they’ll be contracted to work a set amount of hours/perform only certain tasks for a set fee. In other words, you’ll be assigned an expert consultant who will impartially monitor, support and give advice on your data management practices in a manner that will cause minimal disruptions to your day-to-day operations.
    7. Will perform all the same roles as an in-house DPO – as part of their mission to ensure that you are compliant with GDPR, they will address the following issues:- Will ensure that the processing and storage of personal data is transparent
      – Will secure access to data so that it is only available on a lease privilege or need-to-know basis
      – Will identify and manage risks by aiding with process flows and the creation of Data Protection Impact Assessments
      – Will introduce data retention and archival policies to further enhance compliance processing efficiency
      – Will ensure all staff receive vital awareness training which will make sure everyone keeps in line with GDPR requirements
      – Will supply you with cost effective solutions to any gaps you may have in your current practices
      – Will protect you from large fines and loss of reputation
    8. Access to varied expertise – the biggest perk of hiring a virtual DPO is that you’ll have access to the expertise of numerous people within the service providers organisation (instead of only having access to the knowledge/skills of one DPO). This means you can easily move between DPOs depending on your specialist needs i.e. dealing with ICO, or advising you on the challenges of SARs or conducting data protection impact assessments, etc.The best DPOs should have experience with data protection law and have a complete understanding of your IT infrastructures, technology and your technical/organisational structure.

As you can see, there are numerous advantages to using a virtual DPO instead of employing one in-house. So if you’re looking for a more cost effective way to ensure that your organisation remains 100% complaint with data protection and GDPR, then why not contact us as Economit today and see how our virtual DPOs can help?