Handling Data

Best Practices for Agencies and Brand Managers Handling Data

Data is great until you have too much of it.  Or until you need to get rid of it.  Or when you realize you aren’t sure when or how you need to get rid of it.  Or it gets stolen.

Marketing agencies and brand managers are dealing with data in ever-larger quantities, which are wonderful when it comes to understanding market trends, micro-targeting buyers, and making strategic decisions.  The problem is, handling large amounts of data – particularly sensitive or protected data – brings a lot of responsibilities as well.  There are responsibilities in terms of security, but also in terms of making sure the data is maintained in a way that it remains usable as long as needed.

This is something many agencies may not be entirely accustomed to doing, but it’s becoming a requirement.

Understanding Best Practices for Big Data Management

At Velocidi, our business is helping people collect data, pull it in from multiple sources, and learn how to handle it properly.  While this is a broad topic, we wanted to address some of the most important aspects of data management that agencies and brand managers need to know about to keep everything running smoothly.

Perhaps the biggest aspect we tend to emphasize is this:  big data concerns the entire company.  Data is not simply “an IT thing.”  Proper implementation of data handling and management will touch on most, if not all, of the employees at a place of business.  IT will certainly be a major player, and will undoubtedly be handling most of the hardware and software, but the rest of the company needs to be involved as well.

(Well, maybe not the janitor, but you never know…)

The reasons for this are twofold.  First, to get the most out of big data, every division within a company needs to have access to it so that they can make their own contributions.  Also, because data security is going to be of paramount importance throughout.  Employees who don’t understand how to deal with data are going to be the most likely source of security issues.

So let’s start with the integration aspects.

Making Big Data a Part of Your Corporate Culture

One of the greatest things about data, from our point of view, is that anyone in the company – and any department – can both contribute to the data pool as well as pull new insights out of it.  This means that data should be centralized, at least from the point of view of users.

How, exactly, the data is stored is a technical question beyond the scope of this blog.  However, when users are accessing whatever data they have clearance for; they should be able to view all of it through a single interface.  Having multiple databases makes utilizing data far more difficult.

Why else do you want the data to (appear to) be centralized?  It encourages collaboration.  Well-maintained data allows for cooperative ventures.  Let’s say that your marketing people have been sending out surveys to buyers, and discovered a large portion of them all want the same feature.  The C-level needs to know about this.  R&D needs to know about this. Sales needs to know about this.

Everything links together.  Insights from one department enhance the others – when the data is maintained properly.  So once you’ve got people onboard with the general idea, here are some general tips for keeping it maintained:

  • Keep everything well-organized and tagged.
  • Have standardized naming conventions for data and fields.
  • Periodically review the data for information that is out-of-date or inaccurate.
  • Have widespread training on the use of the analytical tools.   Don’t hold them back; let everyone take their turn looking for insights.
  • Emphasize the importance of accuracy in analysis.  Don’t ever fudge the data.
  • Have a standard method of suggesting, obtaining, and/or submitting new data sources or data-gathering initiatives.

When done properly, you can have a business that’s truly running on data, with every department empowered to view it and contribute accordingly, then comes the problem of actually keeping it secure against threats.

Data Security Best Practices

It seems like the last few years have just been a procession of one company after another embarrassing them with a major data breach.  And, of course, it’s not just embarrassing – it’s potentially a liability nightmare.  According to an IBM-sponsored study, the average cost of a data breach is $3.6 million dollars.  That’s enough to ruin a lot of companies.

More than anything else, everyone must share in security responsibilities.  Again, this isn’t solely an IT thing.  Fancy hardware and firewalls and smart heuristic virus-blocking software will certainly help, but the truth is that roughly 90% of all cyber-attacks involve human failure.  Training of EVERY staff member – yes, including the janitor – is necessary to ensure your data remains protected.

To hit on some of the highlights:

  • Continuously review your security and access policies to ensure every individual employee only has access to the information that’s relevant to their job.
  • Always keep multiple data backups, preferably at multiple sites.
  • Train your workforce to recognize common “social engineering” tactics aimed at tricking them into giving up critical information such as passwords.
  • Never, ever store protected data on a phone, laptop, or tablet.  They’re too easily stolen.  This is one of the most common sources of data theft.
  • Review laws relevant to your industry regarding data retention.  Many industries and/or states have specific regulations regarding how long data must be retained, and also when it must be destroyed.
  • Hire a professional data destruction firm for all disposals.  The small additional cost is well worth the knowledge that data is truly unrecoverable.
  • Consider hiring a “white hat” security firm to conduct a live penetration test of your security measures.

With Great Power Comes…  you know the rest

No matter how large or small your company or agency is, you can benefit from Big Data – but you can also be burned when it’s mishandled.  Be smart in crafting internal policies, and you’ll be far more likely to benefit.

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