Everyone’s talking about big data and how important it is for businesses if they want to succeed in a world that is increasingly competitive. However, while big data is relatively easy to collect, it’s not that easy to make any sense of. And if businesses can’t make sense of it, well, what’s the point?

Here are some tips to help you make the most of the data that you collect.

1) Ensure you have people who are capable of insightful data analysis.

It sounds rather obvious, doesn’t it? But many businesses simply assume that the task can be managed by anyone in the marketing department. According to Olly Downs, analysing big data requires a special data management skillset ( Fortunately, Downs says that some universities are developing programmes that will address the current skills vacuum.

2) Collect data with a purpose.

When people hear the words big data, they assume that it means they have to collect all the data they possibly can. They don’t have a specific goal in mind or have any idea of what they want to glean from the data. The whole point of big data is to extract truly meaningful information from it; the kind of information that will make a tangible different to your bottom line.

Bear in mind, however, that because big data drills down into information much more than traditional data analysis, you might get surprising results, which could make you reassess your goals.

3) Structure your data properly.

Shira Ovide (Wall Street Journal) says that one of the biggest mistakes companies make with their big data is that they don’t organise it properly. Data may be duplicated across several databases, or data that should be kept together may be separated unnecessarily. Data that is all over the place is more difficult to analyse; it’s more difficult to see relationships and patterns. This makes it more difficult to use the data effectively.

4) Ensure you have the proper tools.

You’ll need the right software to help you structure data and to help you extrapolate insights that are meaningful to your business. Some business intelligence software is able to help in this regard, but it’s a good idea to talk to software providers to ensure that the product does meet your business’s data needs.

5) Back up all your data.

Imagine how awful it would be if you went to the trouble of defining goals, collecting the appropriate information and structuring it in an easy-to-analyse way, and then it just disappeared without a trace. Your server could crash, your system could be infected with a virus, or a lighting strike could fry all your circuits.

Always, always, but always have backups, and backups of your backups but if you do not have a backup it would be best to take it in to see what data can be recovered.

Big data can certainly help your business operate more efficiently and help you restructure your marketing plans to improve ROI. But you need to approach it in a logical, systematic and well-thought-out manner.


How much of yourself do you share with the world? Do you take pains to keep your really personal information offline because you never know who’s watching? What if that’s not enough?

You can invent convoluted passwords to stymie hackers, you can install the latest firewalls and antivirus software, you can keep your email address and phone numbers off social networks. But, you can’t do anything about banks whose systems are hacked or about your friends who accidentally reveal a personal identifier online.

That doesn’t mean you should give it all up and give the world you PIN number and the password to your cheque account.


Protect your data

These days, people are very concerned about protecting their data online. They worry about hackers and viruses, and about search engines and marketers collecting, using and selling information about their search patterns.

And they are right to worry (although there is a line between appropriate concern and paranoia). But they shouldn’t forget about all the data that is available offline.

Ask yourself, what do you do with old bank statements – the really old ones? Do you run them through the shredder, cut them up into itty bitty pieces or just chuck them in the recycling bin? Your bank statements contain a wealth of personal information that cunning criminals can use to unravel all the details of your life and steal your entire identity, let alone all you money.

What you do with old utility bills? What do you do with those annoying letters that tell you’ve been pre-approved for store card at a store you’ve never been in?

If a department store can get your details, you can bet that a recreational hacker can do it quicker.


What else should you consider?

Where do you store your hard copies? Do you stuff them in a drawer, do you have a concertina file in the back of a cupboard, do you have an unlocked filing cabinet, or do you have a safe?

A thief with a particular goal in mind won’t find it too difficult to find your details if you keep documents in all the usual places. The least you can do is make it as difficult as possible to get hold of the information. Put locks on your filing cabinet. Buy a safe. Don’t keep documents in your sock drawer.

How much of your data is stored on your mobile phone? Is it secure enough that it won’t pose any risk if the phone is stolen? Mobile phones get stolen all the time. Sometimes they’re scrubbed clean before they find new owners. Sometimes curious thieves dig around before discarding unimportant information, but they might keep some stuff – like the pictures of your kids at the easily identifiable park that you frequent.

All your contacts, your texts and all your pictures, even your apps are data gold mines for someone of a certain bent.

That’s why there are data protection apps available, and why you should always have a password to access your phone. It’s also why you need to encrypt all the data you can, especially on your desktop and laptop.

You’re never going to make your data 100% safe. But many people are deterred if they have to work too hard to get what they want. So make criminals jump through fiery hoops, so that at least they have to earn your data – before your tracking system nails them, that is.


Are you aware of the danger that lurks in your business’s copier? These days, copiers and printers come with internal hard drives, and these are often forgotten when it comes to ensuring data security. Basically, every document copied and printed is stored on the hard drive, which is a major problem for businesses which regularly print and copy highly sensitive data.

Think about a bank; every time you pop in to do a transaction, like a cash transfer, or pick up a new card, your ID is photocopied. Every document you have to sign is photocopied. Your account details and personal information are stored, along with those of every other client, and they are easy pickings for identity thieves.

Think about police stations, which copy and print highly sensitive data regarding criminal cases. Think of the damage that data can do if it ends up in the wrong hands, or even in the public domain.


What can you do to protect yourself?

There’s not a lot you can do about the data stored in your bank’s copier (beyond asking them about their security measures and suggesting that they look into solutions), but you can protect your business’s data.

  • You can purchase data security kits, which encrypt data stored on the hard drive, as well as data stored on dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). Data is cleared and overwritten regularly.
  • Degaussing is recommended if you have no intention of using the drive again, or of selling it (VSSP). This entails running data through a magnetic field, which is supposed to completely remove all traces of data.
  • You can use overwrite software, which doesn’t render the drive inoperable. Look for software that provides a report on the erasure process (whether it was successfully completed or whether errors occurred).
  • Physically destroying the drive by disintegration, incineration, melting, and chemical treatment. However, this is not always entirely successful as skilled data recovery experts can often recover data from severely physically damaged drives.
  • Don’t forget that multifunction devices are plugged into your network, which makes them vulnerable to viruses, worms and malware. So, you need to include them in your network security measures (Larry Kovnat (

The danger of hard drives in copiers and printers was first reported by CBS in 2010. Since then, not a lot more people have become aware of the risk. The result is that a lot of confidential data still finds ends up where it shouldn’t when old devices are sold or recycled. It’s not just up to manufacturers to ensure that their customers are aware of the danger that lurks in their machines (although they have a very important role to play). Consumers should also properly research equipment before they sign any cheques, so that they know exactly what they are getting.