Company closures, mass layoffs, pandemics, wars: unfortunately, we are no strangers to this type of crisis. Knowing how to maintain business operations and stakeholder communications during turbulent times is an important skill, and data plays a big part in that.
This role is double. First, timely and accurate information is critical to making informed decisions, coordinating response efforts, and assessing the potential impact of the crisis on the business, its employees, and customers.
Second, it’s equally important to know how to manage and protect business-critical data if a crisis occurs.
To do both effectively, proper data management protocols must be implemented.
A data management strategy should encompass data access, storage, security, backup, retention, and disposal. Any company that collects and stores critical and sensitive data must have a clear data management policy; this need is exacerbated in the face of a crisis.
Strong data management helps with decision making, resource allocation, and response. It also ensures that business-critical data is kept safe from leakage, loss or theft when businesses are at their most vulnerable. Data management policies should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure they reflect the current business environment and remain relevant.
Here are several steps companies need to take to build a crisis-proof data management strategy.
Continuously identify and classify all data
With data spread across many files, databases, and clouds, it’s important to take a holistic view. Without this insight, business alignment is inefficient and crisis response times can be slow.
Start by identifying any critical and sensitive data that must be retained in the event of a crisis, including financial records, employee records, customer data, intellectual property, and any other data required by law or regulation. Then rank this data based on its sensitivity and criticality.
Taking this approach will help you determine the appropriate level of security and access controls needed to protect various data in advance of a crisis. Identification and triage should not be done during a crisis; this should be an ongoing and proactive practice.
Keep data accessible but secure
Easy access to data is necessary to make informed decisions and respond quickly during a crisis. But companies are often most vulnerable at times like these. Steps need to be taken to ensure that data does not fall into the wrong hands.
Therefore, it is good practice to implement a just-in-time approach to data access that grants authorization based on employee roles, business context, and data usage needs, and revokes authorization when access is no longer required.
Adding additional layers of security on top of access controls, including encryption and backup and recovery procedures, will further protect data from unauthorized access, modification, or loss.
Constantly validate data quality
To harness the full power of data, it needs to be accurate, complete, and up-to-date. But as the number and variety of data sources increases, there is a greater chance of errors, redundancies, and missing data.
Data validation and cleansing can help maintain data quality and integrity at all times. This way, if a crisis occurs, you know that the data you are using to inform your response is the best data possible.
- Eliminate duplicate or irrelevant data
- Standardization of data collection for dates, capitalization, and the like
- Identify and correct inconsistent or inaccurate data
- translate languages
- Validation of data such as email addresses or phone numbers for the proper format
- Addressing missing values are examples of important data cleansing and validation activities.
Doing this manually can be a painful and time-consuming process for data analysts, but there are automated tools that can ease the burden.
Have a data recovery plan in place
It is important to have a data recovery plan in the event of a crisis or business closure. Start by establishing procedures to ensure that lost data can be recovered. Detail how often different types of data should be backed up and what steps should be taken for recovery.
From there, make multiple backups of your most business-critical data and store it in secure locations.
Have a communication plan in place
In the event of a crisis, you’ll want to notify all stakeholders, including employees, customers, partners, and regulators. As part of this, you’ll want to be prepared to describe the steps being taken to preserve company data and provide clear instructions on how interested parties can access your data and any other relevant information.
Consider how to get rid of the data
In the extreme case of a permanent business shutdown, develop a plan to securely dispose of non-critical data, including destroying physical storage devices and deleting electronic data.
This includes identifying when the data is no longer needed, how long it should be kept, and how it should be disposed of securely.
Regular audit to ensure regulatory compliance
By regularly auditing your data management practices, you can identify any persistent problems and ensure compliance with regulations related to data access, sharing, security, preservation, and deletion.
Don’t forget training and awareness
Train staff on data management procedures, especially data access policies and security best practices. This ensures that, in the event of a crisis, everyone within an organization is aware of their responsibilities regarding how data is handled.
Effective data management is critical in the event of a business crisis, not only to aid response and communication efforts, but also to ensure that critical data is preserved and protected. While these steps may seem daunting, modern tools and technology can help automate and streamline the process. By taking these steps, organizations can effectively manage their data to protect it from unauthorized access, safeguard stakeholder interests, and ensure data accuracy and integrity.