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How to Monitor GDPR Compliance : A Structured Approach

by Dessi Vitcheva, Founder of iReina, GDPR specialist -  April 2024

Just like for Anti-Money-Laundering (AML) regulations in the financial sector, the GDPR journey doesn’t stop once the compliance framework is implemented.

Compliance with GDPR is a dynamic process requiring continuous monitoring and adaptation. In this article, we provide tips and a structured approach to monitor GDPR compliance effectively.

The “monitoring” phase begins once an organisation has established a GDPR remediation framework. This means implementing GDPR policies, processes, risk and control frameworks, training, and legal documents like contracts with providers. I call this the “backbone activities". However, having policies and contracts drafted by the best lawyers, and processes and procedures developed by the smartest consultants, unfortunately, doesn’t make an organisation compliant per se. Continuous monitoring is essential to ensure they are respected, enforced, and effective within the organisation. Below, we outline key phases of the monitoring process, a familiar approach for those in financial institutions' second lines of defence.

Below, we outline the key phases of the monitoring process, a familiar approach for those in financial institution’s second line of defence.

How much is the acceptable risk for GDPR (non)compliance?

Defining Risk Appetite

Defining the amount of risk that an organisation is willing to accept in pursuit of its GDPR compliance is the baseline for risk management and control performance monitoring. Just like individuals, organisations have varying levels of risk appetite. Some would be more risk averse when it comes to regulations, others less. In the end, as one of my privacy mentors used to say: “There is no 100% compliance”. It is up to organisations to decide whether they will Strive for 'best in class,' settle for the 'bare minimum,' or aim for a middle ground. Various factors will play a role in this decision. For example, heavily regulated industries such as the financial sector or healthcare, will usually have a low-risk appetite. Other factors, such as the importance of the strategic objectives pursued, how active is the local regulatory enforcement activity, and the organisational maturity and brand popularity of the organisation will play a role. Management typically defines risk appetite through a risk statement, setting measurable thresholds for acceptable risk levels. How would this look like? Depending on the maturity and risk management capabilities of the organisation, this could be a high-level statement such as “As a highly regulated institution, we have a 0-risk approach to GDPR”. There could be as well several statements for different scenarios, defining specific and measurable thresholds for the acceptable amount of risk.

GDPR rules are the same, but the risk varies

Risk and Control Matrix (RCM)

While GDPR is industry and size-agnostic and the rules are the same for all, their impact and associated risk will differ based on factors like industry, size, type and data volume. The risk and control matrix maps the specific organisational GDPR-related risks and corresponding mitigation controls. Typically, the matrix contains a list of risks and their description, the impact and likelihood of the risk, the corresponding mitigating controls and the control owner. A risk example is the “lack or inappropriate legal basis for processing”. The impact and likelihood could vary between low, medium or high. A mitigating control could be “review and document the legal basis for each data processing”.

The Importance of Metrics in GDPR Compliance Monitoring

Defining Specific and Measurable Metrics: KPIs

Defining metrics is critical for effectively monitoring GDPR compliance. Metrics provide quantitative insights into progress, trends, and the effectiveness of remediation efforts. Key GDPR metrics include:

  • Personal Data Breach Incidents: number, frequency, and severity of data breach incidents.
  • User Rights Requests: the number of requests are made and how quickly they are handled.
  • Compliance Controls Effectiveness: assess how well controls like access management and encryption work through regular audits.
  • Training and Awareness: evaluate employee GDPR training engagement and performance.
  • Regulatory Compliance Status: tracking compliance with GDPR requirements, such as data breach notification timelines, consent management practices, and data transfer safeguards.

Warning Indicators while Monitoring GDPR Compliance

The objective of monitoring GDPR compliance is to ensure enforceable and effective controls are in place, preventing risks beyond the organisation’s risk appetite. Regular and continuous monitoring allows the detection of warning indicators for potential non-compliance or data protection gaps. Key warning indicators include:

  • Increase in Personal Data Breaches: may indicate weaknesses in data protection measures or inadequate response procedures. Monitoring the frequency and severity of breaches can help identify areas for improvement.
  • Rise in User Complaints or Requests: a high volume of requests for data access, rectification, or erasure may signal deficiencies in data handling processes or transparency. Addressing these concerns promptly is essential for maintaining trust and compliance.
  • Compliance breaches: non-compliance with GDPR requirements, such as failure to obtain consent for data processing or improper data transfers, highlight areas where existing controls may be insufficient or additional training and enforcement measures are needed.

GDPR Compliance Continuity: Detect and Correct Red Flags Timely

KPI’s Reporting

KPIs and metric analysis reveal trends in compliance effectiveness, pinpointing areas of strength and vulnerability. These insights empower informed decision-making by shedding light on blind spots and guiding risk mitigation strategies. Ideally, reported quarterly or annually, ownership of these reports typically lies with the Data Protection Officer (DPO), Risk, or Compliance. They should clearly outline weaknesses and risks, facilitating action plans with assigned deadlines and owners.


Planning regular internal audits or assessments of GDPR controls is an effective way to uncover deficiencies in compliance controls, data management practices, or employee awareness. Paying attention to audit findings and recommendations to address identified issues proactively allows us to remediate and avoid being in the “red”.

How to prevent being in the “red” on time?

A proactive and systematic approach to risk management and control implementation is key to preventing GDPR compliance breaches. Key strategies include:

  • Continuous Training and Awareness
  • Regular Risk Assessment and Mitigation
  • Regular Monitoring and Review
  • Incident Response Preparedness
  • Stay Informed of Regulatory Changes

Regular monitoring ensures the effectiveness of GDPR compliance frameworks, addressing shortcomings, and preserving compliance efforts and compliance continuity.

Effective monitoring demands robust capabilities, and relying solely on manual Excel processes may be inefficient and ineffective, especially in larger organisations where such methods may fall short. iReina provides a comprehensive solution by centralising GDPR risks and controls in one accessible platform, offering a structured view that saves valuable time, effort, and resources. Most importantly, iReina safeguards organisations from unwanted risk by enabling easy detection and addressing of compliance gaps.

Contact us if you want to learn more about how iReina can help you manage GDPR risks efficiently and effectively.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not constitute legal advice.

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