5 Ways to Embrace Big Data

5 Ways to Embrace Big Data

by Phil Simon

5 Ways to Embrace Big Data. Here’s a handful of useful tools to collect the kind of data you need to make better business decisions.

I’ve spent most of the last four months finishing the manuscript for my fifth book, Too Big to Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data. In this post, I’ll share some data collection methods that may help your business make better decisions.  What if there’s existing data on the Web that you’d like to easily gather and view? You could cut and paste, but there has to be a better way, right? Check out Mozenda, a data extraction service. Its software can “scrape” data from a wide variety of sources on the Web. 5 Ways to Embrace Big Data

That’s fine if there’s existing data you’d like to grab, but what if you need to generate your own data? Two sites here are very useful. The first, Mechanical Turk, is a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace that matches buyers and sellers. Want to submit the title of your book for a vote? Mechanical Turk is a little-known part of Amazon that incentivizes people to provide data. “Requesters” set up Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) and offer small rewards for voting. In a nutshell, Amazon uses human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do. 5 Ways to Embrace Big Data

Not sure if the design of your homepage is working? Run an experiment–Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google all do this. (There’s a high degree of science behind everything on these company’s pages, up to and including the color of fonts.) Optimizely allows users to perform their own A/B testing. Over the course of a few weeks, generate metrics on which version of your homepage generates more traffic, lowers bounce rates, and the like. Author Eric Ries of The Lean Startup actually used this to convince his publisher that some of its covers and titles just didn’t work. (Of course, Google AdWords is still also capable of performing de facto A/B testing on a wide variety of things.) 5 Ways to Embrace Big Data

And let’s not forget surveys. There are many online tools like SurveyMonkey, PollDaddy, and others. I’m a big fan of Wufoo. This über-easy site lets you create powerful forms, online surveys, and event registrations. Without getting all statsy, though, understand that online surveys typically need to be taken with a 20-lb. bag of salt. Use them as a guide, not gospel. 5 Ways to Embrace Big Data

Simon Says

Some say that data is the new oil. You’ll get no argument from me. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and other companies are extremely valuable and successful in no small part from their exceptional data management, collection, and analysis methods. All else being equal, in 2013 and beyond, companies that understand and take advantage of Big Data will do better than those that don’t. 5 Ways to Embrace Big Data

4 Ways to Embrace Big Data

4 Ways to Embrace Big Data

by Phil Simon

4 Ways to Embrace Big Data. Here’s a handful of useful tools to collect the kind of data you need to make better business decisions.

I’ve spent most of the last four months finishing the manuscript for my fifth book, Too Big to Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data. In this post, I’ll share some data collection methods that may help your business make better decisions.

 

What if there’s existing data on the Web that you’d like to easily gather and view? You could cut and paste, but there has to be a better way, right?

 

Check out Mozenda, a data extraction service. Its software can “scrape” data from a wide variety of sources on the Web. 4 Ways to Embrace Big Data

 

That’s fine if there’s existing data you’d like to grab, but what if you need to generate your own data? Two sites here are very useful. The first, Mechanical Turk, is a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace that matches buyers and sellers. Want to submit the title of your book for a vote? Mechanical Turk is a little-known part of Amazon that incentivizes people to provide data. “Requesters” set up Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) and offer small rewards for voting. In a nutshell, Amazon uses human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do.

 

Not sure if the design of your homepage is working? Run an experiment–Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google all do this. (There’s a high degree of science behind everything on these company’s pages, up to and including the color of fonts.) Optimizely allows users to perform their own A/B testing. Over the course of a few weeks, generate metrics on which version of your homepage generates more traffic, lowers bounce rates, and the like. Author Eric Ries of The Lean Startup actually used this to convince his publisher that some of its covers and titles just didn’t work. (Of course, Google AdWords is still also capable of performing de facto A/B testing on a wide variety of things.)

 

And let’s not forget surveys. There are many online tools like SurveyMonkey, PollDaddy, and others. I’m a big fan of Wufoo. This über-easy site lets you create powerful forms, online surveys, and event registrations. Without getting all statsy, though, understand that online surveys typically need to be taken with a 20-lb. bag of salt. Use them as a guide, not gospel.

 

Simon Says

 

Some say that data is the new oil. You’ll get no argument from me. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and other companies are extremely valuable and successful in no small part from their exceptional data management, collection, and analysis methods. All else being equal, in 2013 and beyond, companies that understand and take advantage of Big Data will do better than those that don’t. 4 Ways to Embrace Big Data

 

What say you?

 

Article provided by Inc.com. ©Inc.

Smartphone as Right Hand Man: Can New Virtual Assistants Replace the Real Thing?

Smartphone as Right Hand Man: Can New Virtual Assistants Replace the Real Thing?by Erin McDermott.

Ryan Frankel likes to run, sometimes even competing in triathlons. Like many entrepreneurs, he gets some good ideas when he has time to think, especially when he’s out pounding the pavement.

So when the MBA candidate brought along his iPhone 4S on a training run and tapped his Siri virtual assistant to take a message to remind himself of a thought to pursue, he hoped the much-touted Apple technology would take copious notes.

When he later listened to the recording, however, he found nothing but jibberish.

“It seems to never work right with background noise or wind, but it’s OK when it’s quiet and you’re slow in enunciating,” says Frankel, a second-year student in the Venture Initiation Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia. “I’d never rely on it for anything serious, or do so sparingly. It just isn’t there.”

PQ_VirtualAsst.jpgNote to self: Popular new virtual assistants may not be entirely ready for prime time when it comes to the needs of an entrepreneur or small-business owner. While the ability to handle some small time-consuming tasks, such as search, managing a calendar, and text messaging, can be of value to anyone on the go, for those running the complexities of a modern business, there are questions of reliability.

When Apple’s Siri debuted in October 2011 on the new iPhone 4S, many hoped it would revolutionize the way users utilized their smartphones. But since then, many have found that even the most advanced virtual assistant can’t comprehend context the way a human being might. So far, this modern contest of man vs. machine shouldn’t have actual human assistants losing much sleep.

Frankel said his frustration with his device’s inability to provide crucial information pushed him to found PalmLing.com, a crowd-sourced translation service that lets actual humans answer questions in Mandarin, Spanish, and Hindi. He got the idea after contracting food poisoning in China—and being unable to use a personal technology device to express the important notion that he needed an antibiotic. “At that point, I’d have given my left arm for someone to communicate on my behalf,” he said.

OK, so virtual assistants have their notable limits, but they are able to adapt. The more you use them, the more they learn, even from mistakes.

What does work well?

Siri: Let your new “friend” get to know you better, says Olga Mizrahi, a management and marketing expert, whose blog, Chunk of Change, touts smart new efficiencies from technology. She uses Siri to add expenses to her roster verbally and send text messages when she’s driving.

The more Siri knows about the people in your life, the easier it will be to contact and interact with them, Mizrahi says. Start by going to Settings> General> Siri > My Info and fill in your own contact information through your address book thoroughly. Then introduce Siri to your favorite people:

she says there are two easy ways to add a relationship:

1. Go into your own contact listing. Click “Edit.” Click on the name of a relationship (e.g. “ mother”), which appears underneath your address. Either choose one of the given labels or click “Add Custom Label” and use the arrow to choose a name from your contacts.

2. Go into someone else’s contact information. Click “Edit.” Click “add field” at the bottom of the screen. Choose “Phonetic First Name.” Either type in the name you want to use, or click on the microphone to have Siri record it.

(You can also try using Siri to check your bank balances—follow blogger Ryan Spahn’s instructions here.)

Vlingo: BlackBerry users can get its free SafeReader app, which can read your text messages and emails aloud, a hands-free aid for drivers with an itch to check their messages.

Evi: (For iPhone and Android). While this True Knowledge product isn’t able to send emails or text messages on voice command, its search answers get points for brevity: They are to the point and not just forwarded to a search engine.

Plus: watch this market space for Google’s Assistant, a new personal virtual assistant that’s reportedly coming later this year and is said to be focused on “accomplishing real-life goals,” not just churning out search results.

Dwight Carey, who teaches advanced entrepreneurship at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, says the technology could be useful to watch certain benchmarks. Work on getting your virtual assistant to monitor important numbers, such as a commodity price or how inventory levels compare with sales—and raise a flag for you if your set threshold is crossed, Carey says.

“The future is bright for technologies and services that make better use of people’s time, since we are becoming increasing time-constrained and more comfortable with mobile devices,” says Mizrahi, who’s based in Long Beach, Calif. “Small changes can make big differences over time, such as saving five or 10 minutes here and there throughout the day using a digital VA on a smart device.”

So for now, maybe it’s wise to just focus on the little advances these devices offer.

Perhaps Samir Malik has the right idea. As an MBA candidate at Wharton and a founder of 1DocWay, a HIPAA-compliant videochat service that links doctors with patients, Malik finds the most useful feature of his voice-activated Siri comes in the winter.

“When it’s cold, I use Siri a lot,” said Malik. “I don’t have to take my gloves off to do a search. I love that!”

Smartphone as Right Hand Man: Can New Virtual Assistants Replace the Real Thing?

Smartphone as Right Hand Man: Can New Virtual Assistants Replace the Real Thing?by Erin McDermott.

Ryan Frankel likes to run, sometimes even competing in triathlons. Like many entrepreneurs, he gets some good ideas when he has time to think, especially when he’s out pounding the pavement.

So when the MBA candidate brought along his iPhone 4S on a training run and tapped his Siri virtual assistant to take a message to remind himself of a thought to pursue, he hoped the much-touted Apple technology would take copious notes.

When he later listened to the recording, however, he found nothing but jibberish.

“It seems to never work right with background noise or wind, but it’s OK when it’s quiet and you’re slow in enunciating,” says Frankel, a second-year student in the Venture Initiation Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia. “I’d never rely on it for anything serious, or do so sparingly. It just isn’t there.”

PQ_VirtualAsst.jpgNote to self: Popular new virtual assistants may not be entirely ready for prime time when it comes to the needs of an entrepreneur or small-business owner. While the ability to handle some small time-consuming tasks, such as search, managing a calendar, and text messaging, can be of value to anyone on the go, for those running the complexities of a modern business, there are questions of reliability.

When Apple’s Siri debuted in October 2011 on the new iPhone 4S, many hoped it would revolutionize the way users utilized their smartphones. But since then, many have found that even the most advanced virtual assistant can’t comprehend context the way a human being might. So far, this modern contest of man vs. machine shouldn’t have actual human assistants losing much sleep.

Frankel said his frustration with his device’s inability to provide crucial information pushed him to found PalmLing.com, a crowd-sourced translation service that lets actual humans answer questions in Mandarin, Spanish, and Hindi. He got the idea after contracting food poisoning in China—and being unable to use a personal technology device to express the important notion that he needed an antibiotic. “At that point, I’d have given my left arm for someone to communicate on my behalf,” he said.

OK, so virtual assistants have their notable limits, but they are able to adapt. The more you use them, the more they learn, even from mistakes.

What does work well?

Siri: Let your new “friend” get to know you better, says Olga Mizrahi, a management and marketing expert, whose blog, Chunk of Change, touts smart new efficiencies from technology. She uses Siri to add expenses to her roster verbally and send text messages when she’s driving.

The more Siri knows about the people in your life, the easier it will be to contact and interact with them, Mizrahi says. Start by going to Settings> General> Siri > My Info and fill in your own contact information through your address book thoroughly. Then introduce Siri to your favorite people:

she says there are two easy ways to add a relationship:

1. Go into your own contact listing. Click “Edit.” Click on the name of a relationship (e.g. “ mother”), which appears underneath your address. Either choose one of the given labels or click “Add Custom Label” and use the arrow to choose a name from your contacts.

2. Go into someone else’s contact information. Click “Edit.” Click “add field” at the bottom of the screen. Choose “Phonetic First Name.” Either type in the name you want to use, or click on the microphone to have Siri record it.

(You can also try using Siri to check your bank balances—follow blogger Ryan Spahn’s instructions here.)

Vlingo: BlackBerry users can get its free SafeReader app, which can read your text messages and emails aloud, a hands-free aid for drivers with an itch to check their messages.

Evi: (For iPhone and Android). While this True Knowledge product isn’t able to send emails or text messages on voice command, its search answers get points for brevity: They are to the point and not just forwarded to a search engine.

Plus: watch this market space for Google’s Assistant, a new personal virtual assistant that’s reportedly coming later this year and is said to be focused on “accomplishing real-life goals,” not just churning out search results.

Dwight Carey, who teaches advanced entrepreneurship at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, says the technology could be useful to watch certain benchmarks. Work on getting your virtual assistant to monitor important numbers, such as a commodity price or how inventory levels compare with sales—and raise a flag for you if your set threshold is crossed, Carey says.

“The future is bright for technologies and services that make better use of people’s time, since we are becoming increasing time-constrained and more comfortable with mobile devices,” says Mizrahi, who’s based in Long Beach, Calif. “Small changes can make big differences over time, such as saving five or 10 minutes here and there throughout the day using a digital VA on a smart device.”

So for now, maybe it’s wise to just focus on the little advances these devices offer.

Perhaps Samir Malik has the right idea. As an MBA candidate at Wharton and a founder of 1DocWay, a HIPAA-compliant videochat service that links doctors with patients, Malik finds the most useful feature of his voice-activated Siri comes in the winter.

“When it’s cold, I use Siri a lot,” said Malik. “I don’t have to take my gloves off to do a search. I love that!”

Smartphone as Right Hand Man: Can New Virtual Assistants Replace the Real Thing?

Smartphone as Right Hand Man: Can New Virtual Assistants Replace the Real Thing?by Erin McDermott.

Ryan Frankel likes to run, sometimes even competing in triathlons. Like many entrepreneurs, he gets some good ideas when he has time to think, especially when he’s out pounding the pavement.

So when the MBA candidate brought along his iPhone 4S on a training run and tapped his Siri virtual assistant to take a message to remind himself of a thought to pursue, he hoped the much-touted Apple technology would take copious notes.

When he later listened to the recording, however, he found nothing but jibberish.

“It seems to never work right with background noise or wind, but it’s OK when it’s quiet and you’re slow in enunciating,” says Frankel, a second-year student in the Venture Initiation Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia. “I’d never rely on it for anything serious, or do so sparingly. It just isn’t there.”

PQ_VirtualAsst.jpgNote to self: Popular new virtual assistants may not be entirely ready for prime time when it comes to the needs of an entrepreneur or small-business owner. While the ability to handle some small time-consuming tasks, such as search, managing a calendar, and text messaging, can be of value to anyone on the go, for those running the complexities of a modern business, there are questions of reliability.

When Apple’s Siri debuted in October 2011 on the new iPhone 4S, many hoped it would revolutionize the way users utilized their smartphones. But since then, many have found that even the most advanced virtual assistant can’t comprehend context the way a human being might. So far, this modern contest of man vs. machine shouldn’t have actual human assistants losing much sleep.

Frankel said his frustration with his device’s inability to provide crucial information pushed him to found PalmLing.com, a crowd-sourced translation service that lets actual humans answer questions in Mandarin, Spanish, and Hindi. He got the idea after contracting food poisoning in China—and being unable to use a personal technology device to express the important notion that he needed an antibiotic. “At that point, I’d have given my left arm for someone to communicate on my behalf,” he said.

OK, so virtual assistants have their notable limits, but they are able to adapt. The more you use them, the more they learn, even from mistakes.

What does work well?

Siri: Let your new “friend” get to know you better, says Olga Mizrahi, a management and marketing expert, whose blog, Chunk of Change, touts smart new efficiencies from technology. She uses Siri to add expenses to her roster verbally and send text messages when she’s driving.

The more Siri knows about the people in your life, the easier it will be to contact and interact with them, Mizrahi says. Start by going to Settings> General> Siri > My Info and fill in your own contact information through your address book thoroughly. Then introduce Siri to your favorite people:

she says there are two easy ways to add a relationship:

1. Go into your own contact listing. Click “Edit.” Click on the name of a relationship (e.g. “ mother”), which appears underneath your address. Either choose one of the given labels or click “Add Custom Label” and use the arrow to choose a name from your contacts.

2. Go into someone else’s contact information. Click “Edit.” Click “add field” at the bottom of the screen. Choose “Phonetic First Name.” Either type in the name you want to use, or click on the microphone to have Siri record it.

(You can also try using Siri to check your bank balances—follow blogger Ryan Spahn’s instructions here.)

Vlingo: BlackBerry users can get its free SafeReader app, which can read your text messages and emails aloud, a hands-free aid for drivers with an itch to check their messages.

Evi: (For iPhone and Android). While this True Knowledge product isn’t able to send emails or text messages on voice command, its search answers get points for brevity: They are to the point and not just forwarded to a search engine.

Plus: watch this market space for Google’s Assistant, a new personal virtual assistant that’s reportedly coming later this year and is said to be focused on “accomplishing real-life goals,” not just churning out search results.

Dwight Carey, who teaches advanced entrepreneurship at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, says the technology could be useful to watch certain benchmarks. Work on getting your virtual assistant to monitor important numbers, such as a commodity price or how inventory levels compare with sales—and raise a flag for you if your set threshold is crossed, Carey says.

“The future is bright for technologies and services that make better use of people’s time, since we are becoming increasing time-constrained and more comfortable with mobile devices,” says Mizrahi, who’s based in Long Beach, Calif. “Small changes can make big differences over time, such as saving five or 10 minutes here and there throughout the day using a digital VA on a smart device.”

So for now, maybe it’s wise to just focus on the little advances these devices offer.

Perhaps Samir Malik has the right idea. As an MBA candidate at Wharton and a founder of 1DocWay, a HIPAA-compliant videochat service that links doctors with patients, Malik finds the most useful feature of his voice-activated Siri comes in the winter.

“When it’s cold, I use Siri a lot,” said Malik. “I don’t have to take my gloves off to do a search. I love that!”

Hack-Proofing Your Company How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data | Hack-Proofing Your Company: How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data

Hack-Proofing Your Company How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer DataHack-Proofing Your Company: How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data by Susan Caminiti.

Big corporations have long understood the need to protect against cyber criminals out to wreak havoc on their computer systems in order to steal money or customer data—or both.

Yet technology experts say small businesses are just as vulnerable, and don’t even know it. “The same small business owner who will spend money putting in an alarm system, a fence around the building, and locks on every door, is the same person who doesn’t see the need to take security precautions with his IT system,” says Brian Reich, founder and president of The Reich Group, a security consulting firm based in northern New Jersey. “The three prongs of security are physical, personnel, and IT security. Unfortunately, a lot of small businesses forget about that last piece because they operate under the assumption that since they’re small, they can’t get hacked.” Hack-Proofing Your Company: How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data

No business is too small to be a target Hack-Proofing Your Company: How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data

Nothing could be further from the truth. That’s because small firms typically have weaker security profiles that enable hackers—or even disgruntled ex-employees—to easily penetrate their systems to steal proprietary information, explains Ed Skoudis, an instructor with the SANS Institute, a leading information security training and certification school based in Bethesda, Maryland. And with few (if any) IT professionals on staff at small firms to monitor these breaches, the issue often gets pushed aside until an attack actually happens.

And it’s occurring more frequently at these smaller firms. According to Verizon Communications Inc. and the U.S. Secret Service, of the 761 cyber attacks that were reported in 2010, 482 of them—or 63 percent—were at companies with 100 or fewer employees. With thinner financial resources, the cost of a digital break-in can even put a small company out of business. Speaking at the recent International Conference on Cyber Security in New York City, Shawn Henry, the FBI’s top cyber investigator, cited a case where a small business had to close up shop after hackers were able to steal $5 million from its accounts.

Passively scan for security holes Hack-Proofing Your Company: How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data

So how does a small business figure out just how vulnerable its online data is? Skoudis and others recommend that they start with a vulnerability scan. Akin to a routine physical, this test looks at your entire computer network every quarter or so to determine weaknesses—or vulnerabilities—that could allow an attacker to get in and steal sensitive information, such as customer lists and credit card information.

Qualys, a provider of on-demand IT security risk and compliance management solutions, based in Redwood Shores, California, offers a free security assessment that small businesses can try, says Skoudis. It includes a scan that detects security vulnerabilities in your systems that face the Internet, including your web server. For a fee, the company can conduct scans that look across your entire network and detect internal vulnerabilities, such as malware infections and threats. The cost is based on the number of IP addresses being scanned and the frequency of those scans.

Actively test your defenses Hack-Proofing Your Company How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data

Going one step further, Skoudis recommends a penetration test—or pen test, as it’s often called. It begins with a vulnerability scan, but then attempts to exploit a company’s IT weaknesses to determine how easily, and to what extent, a hacker can bring a company to its knees. A penetration test can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the size of the company and how many computers need to be scanned. Hack-Proofing Your Company: How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data

“We’ve done pen tests where we were able to get a company’s customer records and all their credit card information,” Skoudis recalls. “When a company gets breached like this, it can destroy its reputation and drain its bank accounts overnight.” And any company that needs to be compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley or HIPAA rules, adds Reich, is even more vulnerable should a security breach occur.

Of course, the difference between a penetration tester and a hacker is that the former has permission to break into a computer network and steal information and the latter does not, according to SANS.

Kevin Mitnick is skilled at both roles. He was once one of the world’s most notorious hackers and today is a best-selling author on information security and president of his own firm, Mitnick Security Consulting. He often consults with small businesses and sees first-hand what happens when cyber security issues are ignored. Hack-Proofing Your Company How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data

For example, he’s currently working with a small e-commerce company based in New Jersey that routinely takes and stores credit card information from its customers. The problem, explains, Mitnick, is that the company stored this financial information on its servers unencrypted, or in other words, as plain text. A hacker who was able to get access to the data had to do little more than copy the numbers to begin fraudulently using them. “The credit card company was the one who figured out the stolen numbers were coming from this business,” Mitnick says. “The owner of the company had no idea this was happening and now they’ve hired me to do a security assessment of their site.”

The cost of doing nothing Hack-Proofing Your Company: How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data

Mitnick, as well as others, point out that companies—big and small—who accept credit cards are required to be compliant with PCI Security Standards, the governing body that establishes the security measures merchants must have in place in order to securely accept and store credit card data. Routine vulnerability testing is one of requirements in order to be PCI compliant, points out Skoudis, and yet companies will regularly overlook or ignore this step because they think they’re too small to be hacked or just don’t make the time. According to PCI, should customer credit card data be stolen, a small business can be liable for fines and penalties. According to FocusOnPCI.com, a site dedicated to explaining the details of PCI compliance, each cardholder data breach can cost a small business between $50 and $90. Multiply that by hundreds or even thousands of customers and the cost escalates quickly. Further, non-compliance can also result in a small business being prohibited from accepting credit cards in the future.

No amount of IT security and vigilance can completely eliminate the risk of an IT breach, say the experts. “There isn’t an agency, organization, or company I know of that hasn’t be hacked to some degree,” says Edward J. Appel, a former FBI agent for 28 years and now a computer security consultant. The goal, they say, is to mitigate that risk by making it harder for networks to be compromised in the first place. Says Appel: “If you say you can’t afford it or don’t need to periodically see where your company might be vulnerable, you’ve already ceded control to the bad guys.”

This is Hack-Proofing Your Company: How Small Businesses can Better Protect Customer Data.

4 Questions to Consider When Choosing a Database for Your Small Business

apple capital group data base for small business

Data Base for Small Business

As a small business owner, it’s possible that an Excel data base is sufficient for your data storage and management needs. It may be enough to help you track customer contact information, search for data and even manage basic accounting. However, how do you know when it’s time to take a step further and determine whether or not you should invest in a database?

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

Will a database save time?

Spreadsheets can become unwieldy, costing a small business owner unnecessary time and money to track down a simple fact. A database and related software programs will allow you to access even the most obscure piece of information with a few clicks of the mouse. More than one department may need to access and update your company’s data on a regular basis. A database will allow company-wide collaboration in real time with no risk of confusion over disparate document versions.

Will a database improve my marketing efforts?

Many companies store customer information in more than one location, e.g. on an order form and in a spreadsheet. A database will ensure consistency of marketing data across multiple documents.
If you have a web-based business, you may be missing out on the opportunity to capture and use large amounts of customer data. A database allows you to parse your data to facilitate one-to-one marketing tactics to existing and potential customers.
In an age that’s becoming increasingly visual, you may find that your business communications have evolved to require the use of images in addition to text. A database will allow you to keep track of thousands of images so that you can add a visual element to your marketing both on and offline.

Is not having a database putting my business at risk?

Sensitive information should not be kept on laptops and PCs that can be stolen, hacked or accessed by unauthorized users. If it is designed correctly and incorporates encryption technology a database can keep your data more secure.
Once your company has grown to a certain size, you may begin seeing an unacceptable number of errors in your data. For example, inaccurate sales totals, implausible inventory levels, inaccessible email addresses and nonexistent codes. A database will self-correct by only allowing information to be entered if it’s in the correct format.

If you have ultimately decided to invest in a database, what kind is best?

If you’ve answered yes to at least one of the questions above, you may be ready to consider a database. However, you may still feel overwhelmed by the breadth of choices.

Start by recognizing that database software typically falls into three general categories:

Desktop systems are the least expensive and simple design that is used to run on a desktop or PCs. These are designed for single users.
Web-enabled or “cloud-based” software is inexpensive, flexible and intuitive to use, but does raise some concerns about data security for the most confidential information.
Server-based databases store the most data and can be accessed by multiple users. These carry higher costs because they usually require a database administrator, either on staff or on a consulting basis.

Once you’ve chosen a general approach – with or without the help of an IT consultant or computer programmer – there are many more questions you’ll need to ask before you can choose a packaged application or customize one for your immediate and future needs. In the meantime, if you’ve been able to determine that you’d be better off with a database than without one, you’ve taken the right first step.