Data is the world's most valuable resource.
Data is an integral part of business and must be protected — from implementing data backup methods to hacker prevention. — Kerkez/Getty Images

Experts at The Economist recently argued that the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil—it’s data. “Smartphones and the internet have made data abundant, ubiquitous and far more valuable. Whether you are going for a run, watching TV or even just sitting in traffic, virtually every activity creates a digital trace—more raw material for the data distilleries,” said their report.

Data can help your business retain more customers, target key audiences and ultimately sell more to grow profitably. But it’s vital that merchants learn how to store, manage and secure data to avoid cyberattacks. Read on for our quick guide to data management for small businesses.

[Read more: Protecting Against Cyberattacks: What Small Businesses Need to Know Now]

Data management 101

A good data management strategy determines five things concerning your business and customer data:

  • What type of data do you capture?
  • How do you capture it?
  • How will you use data to achieve business results?
  • Who has access to what types of data?
  • How do you store and retrieve data?

Because small businesses are so frequently targeted by bad actors, it’s a best practice to store only the data you need. Start your data management plan by determining what data will give you actionable insight to achieve your business goals. Credit card information is one form of data that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use; therefore, you can use an online portal, chip reader or third-party merchant service to process and encrypt credit card information and keep consumer data safe.

Make sure your data management plan is included in your business’s standard operating procedures. All employees should be aware of and trained in data management and storage.

Best ways to store data

Once you have a sense of the data you will collect, you need a strategy for data storage. There are many ways to back up your data, but most businesses use either cloud storage or a data center or a hybrid of both solutions. Look for a solution that’s secure, scalable and trusted.

[Read more: Data Backup: What You Need to Know]

It’s vital that merchants learn how to store, manage and secure data to avoid cyberattacks.

It’s an industry best practice to make multiple copies of critical business data and store them on separate physical devices. Critical data include everything from accounting to tax information to patents and trademarks. In case of a catastrophe, you should also store a hard copy offline at a different location than your business premises.

In addition, you should have a regularly scheduled time each day or week to back up less critical but still important data. “The basic rule for business data protection is that if losing the data will interfere with doing business, back it up. Desktop software programs can be reinstalled if required, but recovering the details of transactions or business correspondence is impossible if those files are lost or damaged beyond repair,” writes The Balance.

Protecting your customer data

Beyond limiting your data collection to only relevant data and finding a secure storage solution, there are steps to take to mitigate risk of a data breach at your business.

Make sure you set up protocols so that secure data is only accessible to those employees who need it. “Only your most trusted employees and business partners should have access to your customer data. Whether you keep things in a file cabinet, on your computer, or in an online tool, make sure as few people as possible have the keys, codes, and passwords,” write the experts at Square. No one likes to think that their employees might misuse private information, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Reduce the risk of credit card hacks by making sure your business is PCI compliant. PCI DSS is the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, a series of regulations that make sure that a business has built a secure environment for accepting, processing, storing and transmitting credit card information. It’s time- and resource-intensive to learn about PCI compliance, but worthwhile to avoid fees, penalties or, worst case, a data breach.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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