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Don’t get your back up – protect your business’ data

January 30, 2017

Your company’s data is one of the most important assets you own. It’s probably as important as your brands, your production machines and your people. But things can go wrong… Your hardware can fail and cause you to lose data. Software can be infected with a virus. There are many reports in the media of cyber attacks and they seem to be on the increase. Any of these can cause you to lose valuable data which impacts on your ability to run your business. The bottom line is that everyone is vulnerable.

You can protect your business. And as a responsible business owner, you should. The most important step is to ensure that your data back-ups are correct. Follow the process below to ensure that you get this right.

1. The first step is to choose the correct data to back up. You need an up-to-date back-up list. Ask yourself what information is critical to running your business. What does your business need to function on a daily basis in order to keep the revenue coming in? Think about this: if your business burns down, what basic information do you need to still keep trading? Your answer will be a good indication of what should be on your back-up list. Information about your customers, orders, transactions etc. should be elements to include.

2. The second consideration is legal requirements. What information are you required to keep, by law? Consider financial records that need to be accessible for 5-7 years. The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) also has particular requirements on information of your customers, employees and suppliers. Include these in your back-up list. Consider critical software like Pastel or transactional systems (ERP). Connect with the suppliers of these systems and discuss the back-up requirements with them – they are in the best position to advise you. However, don’t fall into the trap of just backing-up databases. Also consider whether the software for these systems should be backed up. Find out about the version of the software that your business uses as well as the pre-requisites for the system to be operational.

3. The third tier of back-up selection is the “nice to haves”. This will include information that is not business critical that, if you have to you can do without. Think about employee training records, job descriptions, business templates – these are not critical but it makes life easier. Decide whether to include them in the back-up list.

4. The final consideration is time to recover. If your business does lose data and you have to restore the previous back-up, how long is an acceptable amount of time to wait? It could be an immediate restore, a couple of hours or a couple of days – and the cost increases the shorter the time. Reflect on how long your business can survive without the data and discuss these requirements with your service provider. Also include a question on how often your data will be backed up. This is called the recovery point. Is it once a day (which means that you’ll be able to restore the previous’ day’s information) or once a week which means that if the back-up runs on a Sunday and you crash on a Saturday, you will lose almost a week’s worth of data.

Now it is time to consider the complexity of your business. You need a reliable and robust back-up and recovery solution applicable to the size of your business. If you are a big enterprise, you would most likely require a solution that can be scaled up to an acceptable level of complexity. If you are a small business, you’re probably looking for an automated system that is not reliant on a lot of user interaction. You have to define what the key success criteria are for these solutions around 3 C’s: cost, connectivity, and complexity. Data costs money – the more data you’re backing up, the more you’ll pay. What is an acceptable cost for your business’ back-up data? Next consider the ease of connectivity. Is your business in an urban area where access to the internet (and the cloud) is easy and cheap? You might be based in a rural area where it is difficult to send big chunks of data around, which means that you need a different solution. Complexity is another element which can cause a headache. Ask your supplier how easy it is to test and report on the reliability of the back-up. Where is the information stored and how will it be retrieved when you need it? A backup is a only as good as the last restore – so it is critical to check that the back-ups are running as it should. Your IT provider should be able to report on this for you.

Evaluate the various products and solutions available to you. Using a cloud-based backup solutions will allow you to scale and manage this more cost-effectively because there is no capital outlay for hardware storage devices, you only pay for the data you use and generally doesn't need you to manage it daily. Because it works on a subscription-basis, you can increase or decrease it based on business requirements. The negatives include that you will be reliable on connectivity.

It might take a bit more effort from your side to find a solution provider who will be able to do this for you, but managing it on an ongoing basis with be a lot easier. Always remember: as a business owner you own the data. Don’t hand over responsibility to a third party – it won’t be them being impacted if the back-ups don’t work.

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