Fewer than 10% of ag-tech organisations have ISO 27001.
Why does this matter?
In a recent survey of 36 companies operating in the UK agri-food sector, just three could be identified as having ISO 27001 certification.* Surveyed organisations ranged from publishers to cloud software and precision farming providers and varied in size from start-ups to so-called market leaders.
In contrast, it's virtually unheard of for an organisation in the finance, insurance, medical or telecoms industries not to have ISO 27001; indeed, in most industries it would be highly unusual for any IT company holding user data not to be certified.
Despite ISO 27001 existing – for good reason – as a basic standard in many industries, it is noticeably absent in the agri-food sector. Considering the huge volumes of data held - from application and traceability data to yield and veterinary records - this is especially suprising.
Why does this matter?
In another article we discuss 5 reasons why your data is safer with ISO 27001 accredited organisations. These include a lower risk of a data breach, damage limitation in the event of a breach, and future proofing against cyber threats.
Not discussed in that article is the key role ISO 27001 can play in rebuilding trust in the sector.
Fewer than 10% of companies operating in the sector have opened up their data governance practices to external audit. So, is it any surprise that many in the sector – farmers especially – are so protective of their data? And so suspicious of organisations who seek to access it?
Unlocking the hidden value of data could be key to the UK agri-food sector remaining competitive in a post-Brexit World.
This is a problem. The wider availability of data benefits everyone. Predictive modelling tools become more powerful with every megabyte of data available to them. Benchmarking becomes more useful. Forecasting more accurate. Business insights more profitable.
However, the chances of this happening in the current climate are low. Trust must be earned; ISO 27001 is essential.
It took a significant investment and more than a years' work before Agrimetrics was accredited. Processes had to be changed and stringent security protocols implemented. Companywide training was required. Data security consultants and legal professionals were brought in.
It was worth it. The benefits of ISO 27001 are not only relevant to users - whose data is being held - it can speed up work flows and reduce duplication. It ensures that regulatory requirements are easily met (GDPR was less of a concern for organisations with already excellent data governance) and opens up access to business opportunities which would otherwise not be available.
"If we demand that rigorous, independently verified data governance frameworks are in place in the organisations we work with, then the value of our data can be unlocked without its security being compromised."
Chief Operating Officer, Agrimetrics
Your job to influence
The investment and expertise required to bring organisations up to ISO 27001 standard is significant; no doubt it is a key reason why many do not welcome external scrutiny and by extension, do not pursue accreditation; however, they should recognise that these upfront investments are exactly that – an investment.
Until the industry - from farmers to corporations - demand better data governance in the sector, take-up will inevitably be slow.
We should continue to be protective of our data, but we should recognise that sharing, utilising and protecting data are not mutually exclusive.
Not all doom and gloom
The absence of ISO 27001 does not mean organisations have poor data governance; however, the lack of independent certification makes due-diligence more challenging (perhaps impossible) and does nothing to rebuild trust in the industry.
At Agrimetrics, we've seen a rise in the number of organisations seeking to unlock value from their data. We've helped Barfoots predict the harvest windows of sweetcorn, dramtically reducing supply chain costs; BASF to better manage water stewardship; and supplied start-up Glas Data with an easy flow of data, producing geo-spatial mapping.
The industry is moving in the right direction – albeit slowly – and as more people begin to realise the benefits of sharing and using their data, so too will others follow.
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