Doing Business in Uncertain Times and How Government Relations Can Help

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In 2016, Peter Selfridge left his position in the U.S. State Department under President Obama’s administration and walked across the Mall in Washington DC to sign a contract with SAP as the head of Digital Government.

He never anticipated how radically the world would change and how the practice of government relations would need to adapt.

A wave of nationalism in the U.S. and elsewhere has eroded the spirit of multilateralism and free trade that has underpinned international relations since the end of WWII. At the same time, national and regional data privacy initiatives such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have moved to the fore.

Some legal scholars say this trend of “data nationalism” marks the end of a truly global Internet and a new era in which regulations block the “free flow of information across borders.” But that is not always a bad thing. With ongoing revelations of privacy breaches, along with well-publicized incidents in which major companies have compromised the security of personal data, affecting millions of people, data protection is top of mind for many citizens and governments.

In short, it’s a much more complicated political landscape.

“In my 20 months here, there’s been a steady uptick in the number of fronts we’re fighting on,” says Selfridge. The influence of protectionist and populist movements around the world – and real threats to data security – has meant navigating multiple new data protection and privacy initiatives.

Selfridge explains that GDPR is big, but it’s just one data privacy initiative among many: “The patchwork nature of all these privacy rules is where the real challenge exists. This is going to require a concerted response from businesses all over the world.”

With the global flow of data facing new headwinds, Selfridge and his team are busier than ever helping SAP navigate local rules and regulations protecting privacy.

“The data supply chain, so to speak, is being hindered in different ways around the world,” Selfridge says. For example, Saudi Arabia now requires that all personal data of its citizens resides within the country, which poses a challenge for the deployment of applications in the public cloud.  Elsewhere, Brazil and Vietnam just passed new data privacy laws, China has new regulations going into effect, and the U.S. is considering similar policies.

“There will be some rocky roads to traverse before we can coalesce around common standards,” says Selfridge. But he also believes Brexit, the UK’s decision to leave the European Community, as well as changes in national privacy laws are an opportunity to consider new solutions.

“Businesses need to find a way to maintain competitiveness and find new ways to comply with legislation. The best way to do that is with good software. That’s SAP. That’s what we do.”

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