The Great PCI Divide: The Dids And The Never Dids

In talking with various retail IT execs at the NRF show this week, I was struck with two observations. Let's not dwell on the first, which is my annual rhetorical question: If NRF is going to hold their annual big event every year in January, why do they opt for New York City? I pondered this point this year as the temperature hit 9 degrees Fahrenheit while I typed this column. While we're at it, would it really kill them to start the conference a week later, to give some breathing time after retailers return from the holidays? But the other observation is less futile. PCI kept cropping up in conversations. No surprise there. What was interesting was how differently IT execs with very similarly sized chains viewed it. Those retailers with a history of making security a priority, in terms of both money and labor investments, said that PCI was ultra-easy and they couldn't understand the fuss. Those whose companies have a history of ignoring security issues, on the other hand, will find PCI compliance efforts to be much more painful, time-consuming and expensive. It's the Great PCI divide: The Dids and The Never Dids. The problem with this divide is that the retailers who need PCI's guidelines the most are the ones most likely to be put off by the guidelines, seeing them as unreasonably demanding and expensive. This thinking is an extension of the USDA Pyramid analogy, where the food pyramid was made less healthy in an attempt to boost its compliance. If it was perceived as too strict, it would be ignored. Most PCI presentations are done for all retailers within their PCI category (Level 1, Level 2, etc.), with little thought given to the fact that The Dids and The Never Dids have radically different perspectives about PCI security. Some assessors have been known to unofficially factor this divide into their thinking. As a result, a retailer might be approved if it is merely making major strides toward compliance, even if the chain is still far from compliant. But such a move only intensifies the inconsistency in how retailers are graded, PCI-wise. Should PCI officially factor in how difficult compliance will be for a particular chain, given its current systems and budget?