We’ve written before about the perils of data sprawl.  Even in normal times, no single person at most companies can list all of the places where sensitive company data lives.  Not only does this make it far more likely that your data will find its way into the wrong hands, it also makes it difficult to put multiple pieces of data together to make better decisions for your company.

Coronavirus has made this much, much worse.  Employees are working on home computers, via unsecured connections and many users don’t have full network access.  This means that more files are left sitting in email inboxes, where they are one lost phone or laptop away from unauthorized access.

Additionally, the internet has been spotty in some places due to the large number of people who are suddenly using bandwidth-intensive videoconferencing.  This means that employees are more likely to experience cripplingly slow connections to a company network – and then decide to transfer files to their personal PC instead, so they can actually get some work done.

In the first weeks of Coronavirus, data sprawl was far down the list of fires that most companies were putting out.  But as companies begin to settle into a new normal that includes a much higher rate of remote work, it’s more important than ever to build (and enforce) policies that mandate where data must be stored, can be stored and cannot be stored. 

Here are three things you can do to build a better data policy

Learn What You Know

Task all senior managers with gathering a list of data being collected and stored anywhere on your network (or within cloud products such as online marketing, sales or accounting apps.) Work with each manager to answer some questions about this data:

  • — Is it secured?
  • — Is it backed up?
  • — Who has access to the data?
  • — Who should have access to the data?
  • — How is the data being used?  Should it be used in other ways?
  • — Should you be gathering and storing the data at all?

The last question can lead to some surprising situations, where one team is faithfully gathering and storing information requested years ago by another team that isn’t even looking at it anymore.

Minimize the Sprawl

Few companies have all their data in a single place because that’s not generally possible.  This is especially true in the world of online applications, which store information within their own cloud servers.

That being said, you should work to minimize the number of places where company data is stored.  Each computer with company data stored on an internal hard drive or SSD is another point of failure.  It’s another device that needs to be locked down.  It’s another place where a data backup could fail.  And it’s another set of data that nobody except that employee can access.  In fact, nobody else might know it even exists!

Reducing file storage locations should not dramatically reduce productivity.  If combining two data sources will slow everybody down and create logistical hurdles, that data should probably remain separated; your IT staff will need to put in the extra time to keep them both secured and backed up.  But many companies can dramatically reduce their data sprawl while simultaneously increasing productivity and accessibility and improving decision-making.

Stay On Top of It

This isn’t a process that can be documented, implemented, put in a drawer and left there.  Data sprawl will begin anew as soon as policy implementation is complete. 

Employees need to be trained on the policy and the reasoning behind it.  Managers need to make sure that the policy isn’t creating any major productivity roadblocks; these will lead frustrated employees to sidestep the process.  A new company-wide list of data locations should also be assembled periodically, to make sure newly collected data hasn’t sidestepped the process.

Data: Too Important to Leave Lying Around

It’s true that people are the most important asset most businesses have.  Data, however, isn’t too far behind that.  Losing either of them can do tremendous damage to your company.  You can train your employees to take care of your data, but once your data is lost, there’s not much you can do to protect your people or your company.  A good data policy can help to take care of all three.

To learn how WingSwept can help your company leverage technology to achieve its strategic goals, call us at 919-460-7011 or email us at Team_WingSwept@WingSwept.com.