How much data can your business really afford to lose?

18 Sep 2018

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to change the ways in which we live and work, it's been said more than once that data is the new oil with the value of data only set to rise as bigger and bigger business decisions are made based upon the insights it can provide.

At SEACOM, we would even venture one step further. Data isn't as valuable as oil, it's infinitely more precious. Unlike oil, the amount of data available is not limited to finite and far-flung reserves (the amount being generated on a daily basis continues to grow exponentially), and the ways it can be applied to improve lives are practically limitless. The past few years have lit a fire under those businesses who hesitated to use data to guide their most important decisions, initially put off as they were by expense, complication, or regulatory red tape. With their data-rich counterparts pulling ahead at an alarming rate in the fight for competitiveness, though, the question is no longer "Can we use data to drive our business forward?" but "Can our business even survive if we don't?"

Like any business-critical asset in the digital age, data has also become highly prized by those with more nefarious motives. If the worrying cybercrime headlines of the last few years are anything to go by, businesses of all sizes and across all sectors have their work cut out for them when defending this particular resource. Experience has taught us that data, if not handled correctly, can be far more of a liability to a business than an asset.

Data loss doesn't just mean losing customer insights; it can also mean financial and legal liabilities, and irreparable reputational damage to a business, making full compliance a necessity.

It's time to get up close and personal with GDPR and POPIA

With big data comes big responsibility, and the first step to making data a regular part of your company's strategy is to ensure compliance with the laws in place to protect your customers' identities from being stolen, and their privacy from being breached. In short, South Africa's Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI Act) requires businesses take certain steps to protect their customers' data, including:

Appointing an Information Officer
Creating a Privacy Policy
Prioritising employee awareness
Amending contracts with operators to ensure compliance
Reporting data breaches to regulators
Ensuring they are within the law when transferring data across international borders
Only sharing personal information when legally able to do so.

Data loss doesn't just mean losing customer insights, it can also mean financial and legal liabilities, and irreparable reputational damage to a business, making full compliance a necessity

At the same time, the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires businesses protect their customers along similar lines. What most South African data-processing businesses might not know, however, is that if you're a South African organisation holding the personal data of even a single EU resident, you must be compliant with both GDPR and POPI simultaneously. If not, you risk severe penalties which, in the case of a significant data breach, could include forfeiting 4% of your business's annual turnover, or paying an eye-watering fine of up to €20 million.

Prioritise security, backup and recovery

Those businesses hoping to make good use of their customer data without exposing themselves to risk don't just have their own data-analytics knowledge gaps to contend with. Big data is not a singular function. It's an ecosystem in which avoiding data loss whether accidental or malicious is critical to success. Advanced cybersecurity protections, intensive employee training, and a solid business continuity and recovery strategy must be implemented alongside any data processing plans if an organisation is to protect itself from the risks associated with lax security, storage and recovery measures.

The successful use of data for enhanced business decision-making must always begin with secure backup and storage, and outsourced solutions like SEACOM's Online Backup are one of the ways in which businesses of all sizes can lower the barriers to entry into the data economy. This is a new generation of services, affordable, flexible, scalable and largely automated, that allows businesses to explore the possibilities of the data they hold, secure in the knowledge that their information is safe in the SEACOM Cloud.

With the legal, financial and reputational risks of poor data management practices recently thrown into sharp focus both at home in South Africa and internationally, the time when businesses could "afford" to lose any sensitive data has long passed. Any business planning to make use of data must make compliance, security and continuity their chief priorities. And enlisting the help of experts in these fields will help ensure the prerequisites are fulfilled quickly, affordably and efficiently.