by Penny Garbus, co-author of “Mining New Gold — Managing Your Business Data“
Much of what keeps a business operating and profitable lies not on a store shelf but deep inside a computer system, where critical information such as inventory, customer mailing lists, employee files, sales records and vendor information is stored.
But a hacker or a system failure can wipe out years worth of carefully preserved records in an instant, potentially putting the business out of business.
Business owners often don’t realize just how precious their data is until they can’t access it. They assume, just like the sun rises and sets every day, the data will always be there, accessible, accurate and performing efficiently. That’s a big assumption.
How much effort businesses put into keeping their data safe reflects how important they think that data is. And some business owners don’t seem to think it’s important at all – until it’s too late.
But for those who want to make the best use of their data – and keep it safe – here are a few tips:
1. Step back and take a fresh view of your data.
What information is there that you may have overlooked, but could help improve your business? Don’t just look at the same reports you regularly view. If necessary, ask the IT staff to send a few rows with column names and metadata information intact to see what is stored vs. what data you are routinely accessing. Then review this data; look for patterns or stories that have been left out over time. Delve into the past; what has changed? For example, did you see a once hot item turn cold? Dig deep. Your data may have value you don’t even realize until you review it.
2. Decide what to keep, what to delete.
Government regulations sometimes decree what kinds of records need to be kept. Beyond that, it’s worth having a conversation with your team to determine what’s valuable and what’s expendable. For example, some historical data may help you compare your business’ performance decade over decade. Other data, like who entered an order for 4,000 widgets, might not be that important and is just taking up space.
Reviewing what you want to keep for long-term storage is important. You don’t want to spend time and resources managing irrelevant data for decades. But you also don’t want to throw away anything of value.
3. Review security processes at least annually.
You may want to hire an outside source to review security and, if you believe necessary, hire a professional hacker to look for holes in your systems. Review internal access procedures and password assignments. Don’t forget that your computer is not the only device that can be a victim of an attack. Phones, hand-held devices and smart watches also are potential targets.
In the end, your data is as important as you decide it should be. You should evaluate data, consider what a loss of the data would mean to your company and from there start building a plan to protect it.
Penny Garbus, co-founder of Soaring Eagle Consulting Inc., is co-author of “Mining New Gold — Managing Your Business Data“. She has been working in the data-management field since leaving college when she worked as a data entry clerk for Pitney Bowes Credit. She later ran the training and marketing department of Northern Lights Software.