Strengthening Protections and Embracing Connections – An Interview with Douglas C. Williams of Williams Data Management
Tenth in a series of in-depth interviews with innovators and leaders in the fields of Risk, Compliance and Information Governance across the globe.
Douglas C. Williams is CEO of Williams Data Management and Chairman of the Board for the Vernon Chamber of Commerce. He has over thirty years of experience helping Fortune 500 clients with their document storage, destruction and data security needs. I had an opportunity to sit down with him earlier this year in Los Angeles and collect his thoughts on data protection, business continuity, civic responsibility and professional growth.
Doug, your family has been involved in the Records and Data Management business for the better part of a century and you’ve seen a lot of players come and go. How do small businesses like Williams remain resilient in the disruptive world of digital transformation, and what should executives be thinking about in terms of their long-term information management strategies?
Commercial Records Management, the holistic approach at 50,000’, includes the digital component, as well as the legacy hard copy component. Our transition in the early 1980s into the commercial records center business from industrial freight warehousing and distribution, witnessed similar disruptions. Those disruptions had mostly to do with the shift to the service economy from the industrial/manufacturing economy. Our client base includes enterprise size businesses as well as mid-size businesses and SMBs. Executives in charge of information assets need to recognize the holistic scope of those information assets, whether they be structured or unstructured, and apply the information governance and regulatory guidelines to each equally. Knowing that digital technologies will change at light-speed, CEOs and their executive teams need to be fully knowledgeable and ready for changes in forensic discovery and know the impact of retention milestones for each type of information asset. We all know that text messages, email, and all social media posts have a permanent residency somewhere to be found. Each and every business, large or small, has to accept a contingent liability regarding the action or inaction of maintaining a strict policy regarding their information management policies – irrespective of the resident media.
In 2015, you were interviewed by Adam Burroughs of Smart Business Los Angeles and highlighted a growing alarm over data breaches. Here we are just a few years later and data protection is a daily news flash. With California recently passing the California Consumer Privacy Act, do you still feel the majority of organizations are taking security and privacy for granted or are you now starting to see a trend toward proactive management of data?
I do. They are taking for granted it won’t happen to them, and if it does, they are insured. But guess what, that is delusional. Again, the proactive plan requires a holistic approach to information management. The IT department knows how to protect the data, but typically do not know why, i.e., what are the governing rules for each type of data. That is the province of the CIO or the Director of Information Governance, or the General Counsel if an enterprise size firm. The breaches in the headlines are preventable; however, because of human errors in social media, emails, texts, data sharing, lack of encryption and the like, entryways into personal information data sets are available. In our case at Williams Data Management, because we are social media users, we installed front end data intrusion software, pioneered and patented by Oasis Technologies, known as TITAN, which blocks over 500,000 intrusions attempts per week from getting into our networks.
Firewalls help, but TITAN’s proprietary software magic has been ‘swatting away’ the attempts for over 3 years. Proactive – yes. Ongoing – yes. The recognition by executives that they hold PII (personally identifiable information) is step one in creating an IG plan to protect an organization from data breaches. Then the next step is to assess the businesses vulnerabilities and create a system which enables a security culture. Our firm has partnered with CSR Professional Services, Inc., who provides our clients with a suite of data breach tools enabling Readiness and Breach Notification services in all 50 states, and in the EU as well.
You recently embarked on some big community and public service projects by taking the helm at the Vernon Chamber of Commerce. How has your experience in the private sector prepared you for developing and influencing public-private partnerships and what do you see as the most critical aspect of those types of engagements?
Yes, it is my personal goal at Vernon Chamber of Commerce to enable business and government, working together, to create Growth Mindsets. The future belongs to the fleet of foot. So guess what, those with a Fixed Mindset will be passed over by those with a Growth Mindset. For example, the 21st century, now nearly 20% over, is for the information economy – using data, software, and robotics for manufacturing and distribution. It is no longer a labor vs. capital economy. It is labor vs. technology economy. In my opinion, and it is happening now, government entities – using taxpayer dollars, should either fund economically feasible growth mindset manufacturing projects in California, or lower the taxes of growth mindset businesses so they have the funds to do these projects themselves. Either way, the beneficiary population will win. Private sector leaders know projects must be profitable. Elected leaders must recognize the same thing. A Public-Private project must be profitable and self-sustaining, to enable the Public to earn a return on the capital spend. The era of never ending funding of boondoggle “bridge to nowhere” projects is over. The Vernon Chamber of Commerce has a growth mindset, and that is why I decided to lead it.
For years you’ve chaired an annual breakfast to support goodwill efforts in Israel and across the Middle East. You started this as a small gathering and it has grown into one of the Jewish National Fund’s biggest events. Why is corporate social responsibility so important to you and how has that awareness changed the way you approach running your business?
Corporate responsibility starts with the people who own it. In the case of Jewish National Fund, which has existed since 1903, the task of communicating its mission to Los Angeles was easy. And year after year for 12 years, we at JNF-Los Angeles provided an annual educational program – I called it the Annual Executive Briefing – to bring in Israeli leaders to speak about current events, policy plans, and the like, in a breakfast gathering. The format was very successful in Los Angeles, and that format was scaled nationally – JNF has scores of cities with annual breakfast events now. As it grew in Los Angeles, we asked for corporate sponsorships to underwrite the cost of the event enabling every attendee a free ticket to attend. I felt is vitally important not to charge attendees for breakfast. I still feel that way. If an attendee wants to make a gift, that is great, but we at JNF wanted to grow the knowledge of the importance of Israel within the Los Angeles community, free of charge. Our speakers over the years have included Ambassadors, elected officials, authors, political commentators and members of the Israel Knesset. In the 13 years the event has been going in Los Angeles, attendance has totaled well over 1,000 people per year, and it raises over $600,000 annually.
You graduated with a Broadcast Journalism degree but ended up running a successful data management company! If you could go back in time and change your focus to a different major do you think it would still lead you to your ultimate destination? What kind of advice might you give somebody at a similar fork in the road?
Well that’s an LOL! Personal evolution is all about a growth mindset, isn’t it? In the 1970s I was not thinking about records and information management. The Broadcast Journalism direction was, I recall, a result of my taste for Policy and economics, and communications. I thought I could be the next Dan Rather or Roger Mudd (if those names resonate, you are my age). Journalism was news writing with a focus on facts and consequences. Now, it is not. My advice to you whom is at the fork in the road: Like Yogi said, ‘When you get to the fork in the road, take it!.” By that I think he meant – do what your passion and intelligence says to you is correct. Fuel your passion and do it to best of your ability, whatever it is. Be happy and content with your lot. It is not greener on the other side, it is just on the other side.