Do You Know Where Your Employees' Data Is? - InformationWeek

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Cloud // Software as a Service
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5/13/2010
06:20 PM
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Do You Know Where Your Employees' Data Is?

HR departments must take extra care when using SaaS.

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Human resources execs, pressed to control costs and increase efficiency, are increasingly turning to third-party services providers to process sensitive data. Everything from payroll data to performance reviews to health care and personal background information is being handled in remote data centers maintained by third parties.

Any company considering using these services needs to take extra precautions. "Be mindful of geography," says Jonathan Novich, founder of The Code Works, a staffing and recruitment consultant. "Know where the data is coming from, where it's being held. And consult a lawyer."

As more software-as-a-service vendors process very sensitive employee or company data, that's where security and geography become concerns. The attention SaaS providers pay to these details varies, contends Scott Blackmer, founding partner of InfoLawGroup, an information law specialist in Salt Lake City. "It's not always clear how they're going to provide security, who handles data, where they handle it, who handles breaches, and how they handle them," Blackmer says. "Those are things that can get a company into trouble."

SaaS providers say privacy and security are some of their key assets. SuccessFactors, for instance, says it has layers of security covering data access, handling, and storage. The protections were enough to persuade a multinational giant with 2 million employees worldwide to sign up recently.

Figuring out where data's being stored and processed is particularly important for customers of SaaS and other types of cloud computing such as infrastructure as a service, where a provider rents out capacity that can be anywhere in its network of data centers.

"Some cloud providers say they can store data anywhere around the world, and they won't tell you where it is," says Robert Gellman, a privacy and information policy consultant. "That's a real problem. What if they decide to store data in a country where you have a dispute or in a country where the government wants to look into your data?"

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