Data: For better or worse?

Published date: August 15, 2019

There’s no denying that data has changed the world...

...but has it changed it for better or for worse?

It’s often said that we’re in the age of information, but are we failing to appreciate how this information is impacting smaller businesses?

Think back to the early 1980’s – before the internet (as we know it), before the likes of Google and Facebook, when the mullet was fashionable and Pac-Man was the latest in gaming.

How was personal data collected, processed and stored back then? The short answer – slowly, manually and then most likely locked away in a filing cabinet. Was it safe? Probably not. Was it safer than it is today? We’ll let you decide.

What happened next?

By the late 1980s, two transformable technologies became more accessible to both large and small companies – the personal computer and the electronic spreadsheet. These enabled businesses to access and analyse more data much faster, and could store it on these computers, on floppy and compact discs (CDs). Was it safe? Again, probably not. All you had to do was breathe on a floppy disk and your data was gone!

With the emergence of the global internet in the 1990s, it soon became more cost-effective to store data digitally than on paper, and so the rise of ‘big data’ began to snowball. Of course, the type and volume of data being processed and stored in the 80s and 90s was nothing like it is today but even then, governments were concerned about the implications of data usage and security and was seen as something that needed to be protected.

Fast-forward to 2019

Every week we hear another news story about how big corporations have misused or lost personal information. Even with GDPR, organisations are still either ignoring these controls or simply aren’t keeping our information secure. Of course, hackers are evolving their tactics or inventing new ways of breaching security systems but the sad fact is that there are still so many organisations (like Facebook) who aren’t sticking to the rules.

So what about SME’s? While stories about data breaches may not hit the headlines, we’re betting it still happens. But is it always their fault? Don’t get us wrong, we think GDPR is great but as an SME ourselves, it’s a massive undertaking ensuring that we have our ‘ducks in a row’ so to speak. The day will come when we’ll need to employ someone who will purely manage our data, meaning another salary going out of the business. Yes, this role will be necessary to ensure we remain compliant but not everyone can afford this luxury. With this in mind, are some smaller companies operating with the best of intentions when it comes to data management and security, but are forced to hope for the best because they simply don’t have the right resources?

When we consider that 90% of available data was created in the past 2 years, it’s safe to say that the ‘big data’ trend will continue. But what will this mean for the SME landscape in the next five, ten or twenty years? And will technology make the issue better or worse? We’re already seeing an increase in the number or Data Protection and Analyst roles but we could just end up mirroring the skills shortage the UK has with cyber security professionals?

One way or another data is woven into the future of business and there’s no escaping it, but what that future looks like, nobody knows.