Here’s what we’re going to cover:
Boy, you said it, Andy. The whole world, including your business, is one big data problem. Then again, as Aaron Koblin pointed out, “I think you can have a ridiculously enormous and complex data set, but if you have the right tools and methodology then it’s not a problem.”
And that’s what this article is all about—turning your business data problems into strategic business advantages. In order to accomplish that, we’re going to explore how to keep your data alive, mobile and meaningful.
Keeping your business data alive (AKA cybersecurity)
Cybersecurity breaches make headlines on a regular basis. So often that we’re getting used to hearing about them—when they happen to someone else. The moment your business data falls prey to cybercriminals, it’s a whole different story.
Let’s keep that from happening so that your business data remains safe and secure.
Covering the basics
Basic cybersecurity is a fairly easy thing to accomplish. You don’t have to be an IT professional to make sure your business has the most essential protection. You just have to know what’s needed.
You need four things:
Know the terms
It’s also smart to have a working knowledge of some of the most common forms of cyberattack. Ransomware headlines are meaningful because you know what ransomware is. But if there are other forms of attack you don’t know (for example, social engineering or SQL injection), you won’t keep an eye out for new information about them.
We have a guide that covers the most common forms of cyberattack. It’s definitely worth the few minutes it will take you to read it.
Antivirus and anti-spam programs are practically a given on any network these days, personal or professional. If you don’t already have both kinds of protection for your company’s network, get on that. There are plenty of good, affordable options out there.
The harder work of software protection rests squarely on your shoulders—or on the shoulders of your managed IT services partner, if you have one. We’re talking about updates.
Those annoying notifications you get about various programs needing a patch or an update? Yeah, those are actually really important if you’re committed to protecting your business data.
Software manufacturers often include beefed-up security in software patches. In fact, the WannaCry virus that made headlines in 2017 took advantage of Windows vulnerabilities that Microsoft had already addressed (you guessed it) in a previous software update.
Hardware protection runs the gamut from using business-appropriate equipment (like routers designed for commercial use) to sophisticated, encryption-enabling servers that make business data nearly untouchable. The former is easy to stay on top of as long as you’re paying attention, and you probably don’t need to worry about the latter.
Additionally, there are all kind of hardware issues you can likely address on your own. While there will undoubtedly be times when a bit of professional help is warranted, the most common troubleshooting techniques (the ones the pros will use first) aren’t shrouded in mystery. On the contrary, anyone can do basic troubleshooting.
Consider checking out common computer problems you can fix yourself before accruing any billable hours with your MSP.
Human error protection
Here’s a brutal truth. Software and hardware protection can only take you so far. And unfortunately, human error can completely wipe out the protection even the best hardware and software can provide. One employee mistake can literally expose all of your business data.
And that’s to say nothing of actual internal threats. Even small businesses need to keep their guard up against malicious insider activity. One way to do that is to make sure everyone on your staff knows what to keep an eye out for.
Said another way, employee cybersecurity training isn’t a luxury. It’s a vital necessity.
If you’re not sure how to get started with employee training, check out our guide. It’ll walk you through the high-level ins and outs of an employee training program aimed at cybersecurity and data protection. Additionally, we recommend that you train your staff on some of the most common cybercriminal tactics, like phishing, social engineering and spoofing.
If your employees know about these devious tricks and how to avoid them, your business data is far more likely to remain safe.
Worst-case scenario protection
Okay, so it’s obviously better to stop a business data breach than to deal with one after the fact. That said, there are no guarantees. Cybercriminals are a resilient bunch. We find ways to stop ‘em dead in their tracks, and they bounce right back with newer, sneakier, more sinister ways of breaking into your network.
So you need a backup and disaster recovery (BDR) plan. The goal of a BDR is to minimize downtime, getting you back into productivity mode as soon as possible in the wake of any kind of network failure.
In addition to your BDR strategy (sometimes also called a business continuity plan), we recommend developing plans for deleting old data, retiring out-of-date hardware, and annual reviews of your technology to ensure you have all the protection you need.
Keeping your business data mobile (AKA remote access & collaboration)
Cloud computing has changed the way we handle business data in profound ways. The cloud offers secure options for storing even massive amounts of data combined with the convenience of anywhere, anytime access.
Mobility is where it’s at. Here’s what you need to know to stay connected to your data on the go.
The right tools for the job
First and foremost, you need the right technology solutions. Broadly speaking, these come in two forms: data storage and mobile-ready apps. However, in an increasing number of cases, the line between those two categories is pretty blurry.
Take Microsoft’s OneNote as a prime example. Included as a core component of Office 365, OneNote is a ridiculously robust note-taking and organization tool, complete with online access and collaborative sharing. We’re fans. In this single tech tool, you have both remote business data storage and a user-friendly interface designed for mobility.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In addition to relatively basic (but extremely convenient) tools like OneNote, there are some sophisticated business data management solutions that are just as mobile-friendly. Not that long ago, it would have been hard to envision something as robust as a CRM or ERP in the cloud. Today, both classes of software are just as remotely accessible as email.
The power of BYOD
BYOD stands for “bring your own device.” Even if you don’t realize it, you probably already work in a BYOD environment.
Any time any employee connects any device they own to your network to access business data, that’s BYOD. That includes smartphones and tablets. If any of your employees check work email from their phones, that’s BYOD in action.
BYOD is great. It keeps your staff engaged and productive, even when they’re not in the office. However, it also has the potential to expose your business data to potential breaches. We recommend that you develop a formal BYOD policy that includes specific guidelines to ensure your employees don’t inadvertently compromise your security.
Mobility tips, training and feedback
We’ve already touched on several of the mobility-ready tools out there that can take your company’s productivity to the next level. Anything that allows your employees to access business data on the go has the potential to boost productivity—provided they know how to use those tools.
Similar to cybersecurity, we recommend that you take an active role in training your staff on the pros, cons and best practices of remote access. Give them practical, hands-on tips and tricks, encourage them to share what works for them, and stay engaged.
It would be a shame to learn that super-expensive mobility software you’re paying through the nose for is basically worthless . . . but a much cheaper alternative would have been perfect.
Keeping your business data meaningful (AKA analytics)
Having a lot of business data isn’t enough. So you’ve got spreadsheets full of stats? So what? What matters is what you do with all that data.
Slice and dice
In business-speak, the strategic use of your data is referred to as Business Intelligence (BI). You could utilize BI to determine where there are bottlenecks in your supply chain. Or who your most profitable customers are. Or even predict future buying trends, taking into account variables like seasonality, weather, activity in related markets, and even the political atmosphere.
Real world examples of BI in action are compelling and exciting. They show us just how powerful data analytics has the potential to be. And while your SMB may not be ready to dive into the deep end, there are almost certainly ways you can use BI.
Putting BI to work for your company is simply a matter of digging into your business data in meaningful, actionable ways. When you know how to listen to the story your data tells, you’ll begin to get an idea of how you could use that data to stay ahead of the curve.
Connecting the dots
Now you’re on your way. Your data is safe and secure, you can get to it from anywhere, you’ve got convenient tools for recording, accessing and analyzing it, and you know what kinds of trends to look for in the data so you can take action based on your analysis.
This is where things get fun.
If you’re in the manufacturing or distribution field, for example, this is the point where you can begin to leverage your ERP business data to make meaningful changes to your entire process. Those changes can result in greater efficiency, lower cost, faster turnaround times, and easier internal communication.
Or what about the impact on customer relationships, regardless of the industry you work in? Modern CRM software can help you manage your sales funnel, upsell current customers, address customer complaints, and even maintain automated communication with your customer base. Just make sure you choose the right type of CRM for your business—one that meets your needs and gives you the strategic tools to move your business forward.
This is where the rubber meets the road—and where you start to see the very real bottom-line impact of effective business data analysis.