In Part 1 of this series (read here), there was a discussion leading to a better understanding of the systems used in your business, how they function, how they are administered, and who should have what kind of systems access. The last article also talked about the data each system generated, captured, saved and analyzed.

In this installment, we’re going to explore what kind of data you have and how that data could be managed. Some of the systems used in your business may be managing the data automatically. Maybe that is the case, but more than likely the management of your data is a manual process.

As before, this topic and the things we’ll discuss won’t guarantee you’ll never have a systems or data problem, breech or loss of data. But hopefully this will provide tips that will minimize the chances of that happening.

The first and very significant question you need to answer is how much data do you have. That should be a simple question to answer yet, more often than not, the answer is, “I don’t know.” The business owner will say their computer or server has X number of gigabytes and since there is still empty space there can’t be more data than that. The short answer is that’s correct, but may not be accurate.

Computers and servers host all types of software. That takes up a lot of space on the hard drive. In some hardware configurations there may be multiple hard drives, some that host the software and some that host the data. Which brings up the issue of where do you store your data? In house? In the cloud, with a managed service provider (MSP)?

Where data gets stored may seem like a simple issue but has a number of facets to consider. How often will you need access to the data? For example, data from a point-of-sale (POS) system will, hopefully, see many inputs during the business day. As I mentioned in the first article, how each of your business systems interface is crucial.

A sale processed through your POS system will have data points needed for your accounting system and inventory system at a minimum. Your business may also wish to capture data points on the customer, the date of purchase, the reason for the purchase, whether a promotion of some kind brought the customer to your business, if this sale was to a new or repeat customer, whether the customer was local, and other relevant data points. Not all of this data needs to be stored on your business computers or servers. It could be but would it truly be necessary? There are options to consider.

Another example is e-mail correspondence. When an e-mail is written and transmitted, every person keeps a copy. It can be saved or deleted at your convenience. If the e-mail is written and sent to a single person there are two copies, one for the sender and one for the recipient. What happens if the e-mail is copied to a couple of people in your business to keep them informed? Each person now has their own copy saved somewhere on your company’s computer or server. This is something almost no one thinks about. Over time it can consume a LOT of disk space, especially if there are attachments.

If all your data is kept on your computers and servers, are you also running some data protection or data management software? If you aren’t, you probably should. There are numerous companies that offer this kind of software, your systems administrator, the company that oversees your hardware and/or industry organizations should be able to make recommendations.

One feature to look for when considering data management software is deduplication. This is a feature that eliminates the kind of duplication I described with the previous e-mail example. Typically, a record that is deduped will still retain a “stub” that, when called upon, will allow recall of the original record for display.

Another feature to look for is the data metering. Most data management software will use “upfront” metering, meaning data is measured when it is first input through the software. This is important as most data management software products are priced by the amount of data it protects. With upfront metering, any backups or subsequent internal copies are not counted against the purchased capacity.

So, where is your data stored? Earlier I asked this question. Now I’ll talk about the alternatives.

I spoke recently with a business owner and asked him that question and was slightly stunned by his response. He told me “All the data in my business is stored on a couple of one terabyte thumb drives.” That may work, but certainly would make any retrieval or analysis of that data problematic. The question I was really asking him was where is his data stored, on-site, off-site or in the cloud. There are pluses and minuses to each, so you need to understand them to make the best decision for your business. There is no right or wrong answer, but how your business intends to use the data will have an impact on where it’s kept.

Having all your data stored on-site is fine when you have a handle on how much data you have, how often you need access to that data (some or all), and how you intend to analyze the data to help run your business. However, keeping all the data on-site may cause problems with actual storage and disaster recovery, something I will talk about in subsequent articles.

Having all the data off-site also is workable when you understand how much and what kind of data you are managing. It makes disaster recovery less of an issue through it really just pushes the issue downstream. Is the facility that is storing the data able to recover and restore if they suffer a disaster? If so, how long will they take to restore the data so your business can get up and running?

Storing off-site also may make it more difficult to retrieve data in a timely manner, requiring advance planning to make sure data is available and accessible.
Another consideration is cost. Most data storage facilities, commonly called managed service providers (MSP), charge storage by the gigabyte per month. The question your business should investigate is whether the storage fee is more or less expensive than the cost of having your own storage and maintenance of that storage. And note, some MSPs will offer a hybrid solution where they manage the data both on-site on your infrastructure, and off-site on their infrastructure.

Finally, understanding how much and what kind of data you have is also important when considering a cloud solution. Most cloud solutions closely resemble what is described above as an MSP with one big difference. Cloud data is always off-site storage and usually can be accessed from almost anywhere from almost any computer with the right credentials. (If you didn’t read the first installment about systems access in the February Micromobility Reporter, now might be good time if you’re considering a cloud solution.)

Now that the business is thinking about how much data it has and where it should be stored, you also should be thinking about how you curate your data. The primary consideration is the legal requirement for data retention in your jurisdiction. Of course, not all business data will be subject to legal requirements, so seek counsel on what needs to be legally retained and for how long. And as important as it is to retain certain data for a specified period of time, it is just as important to delete data that is no longer legally required. Why? Should the business ever get audited, it will only be required to produce data within the legal retention requirements. If the business has been inconsistent with when/what data is deleted, it could be deemed suspicious and lead to a prolonged audit.

If the business is paying for off-site storage, you will want to properly manage the amount of data being stored since that will be the basis of your monthly bill.
In my first article I discussed the importance of who has access to the systems in your business and the interfaces. The same care needs to be applied to the curation of the data the business creates. Likely this isn’t something you’ve spent a lot of time considering. Who has the ability to delete or retain data could have a huge impact to your business.

Managing your data and where it is stored can help your business run more smoothly and provide timely information. The next article will discuss system and password security.

Questions? Comments? Contact Steve Bina,