Big data has become a buzzword in the business community. Experts divide big data into four dimensions:
Big data is a fire hose of information that comes from web browsers, social networks, censuses, surveillance, and sensors. It can be stored in the form of text, visual images, and videos. Your organization contributes to the public big data feed simply by having a website and posting on social networks.
But quality of data matters. Nearly 1 in 3 business leaders don’t fully trust the information they use to make decisions. So it’s doubly important that while big data is streaming above us in the cloud, you make sure the data you are intentionally collecting – call it small data or traditional data – is accurate, accessible and secure.
While your organization may not have the budget to hire data scientists to help you mine big data for insights, you can still use the small or traditional data you’re already collecting to make strategic decisions and get actionable results. You are likely collecting small data in a variety of ways, including through your customer or membership management systems, financial and accounting software, and web transactions.
COLLECT ONLY WHAT YOU NEED
The first step in managing the flow of traditional data through your business or nonprofit is controlling the source. Like most of us, you want clean data, not storm water run off that contains who knows what. It also needs to include the right kind of nutrients to feed, not fatten, your organization.
You might be collecting member or customer contact information, data on buying habits, or credit card or bank account information to complete purchase transactions. Like filling a water balloon, the more you collect, the more your resources are stretched to contain it all.
Sounds pretty simple, right? But the longer your organization has been collecting data, the more likely you are to be collecting data you don’t need.
SCREEN, FILTER, VERIFY
Once you’ve decided what kind of data you need to collect, make sure that you’re collecting it from reliable sources.
- To keep data secure, consider electronic input portals via websites and mobile devices.
- Avoid taking information over the phone, particularly payment information.
- If customers are mailing in forms, route them through a lockbox that electronically scans in the information and checks for errors.
- Make sure that the data you capture is as clean and accurate as possible when it enters your organization’s database.
- A robust web form is worth the investment as it can correct errors such as invalid zip codes, dates that are out of range, and unreadable characters.
- Sites that accept credit cards should adhere to industry standard algorithms that verify credit card information.
- The Federal Reserve validates bank routing numbers for sites that accept ACH payments.
PUTTING DATA ON A DIET
One association discovered they were collecting members’ birth dates in their online membership form, but didn’t know why. It turns out that a former membership director wanted to send out birthday cards to members, a nice idea, but one that wasn’t practical in terms of cost or staff time as membership grew.
Identity thieves often scan for birth dates and social security numbers. By stripping birth dates from the association’s records, they were able to downsize their data and at the same time minimize a potential security risk.
By automating your data collection and payment processing, not only are you gathering better data and processing payments more quickly and accurately, you’ll also be freeing your staff from the headache of manual data entry and invoicing.
TEST THE WATERS
To keep member, donor, or customer information up-to-date, make it worth your customer’s time to update their profile when something changes.
Are dues reduced when a member retires? Will moving out of state require new credentials? Is a customer spending at a level that makes them eligible for a frequent buyer discount? Plan a regular communications campaign to keep these points top-of-mind for your members/customers.
Stories of hackers gaining access to sensitive data are regularly featured in the news. Often hackers are seeking credit card or other payment data, which they then turn around and sell or use. One of the best ways to prevent a breach of your customer or member data is not to keep it in the first place.
PROTECTING DATA & DEVICES
Electronic devices come equipped with passcode features and networks require passwords for a reason. Though it may be tempting to disable passcodes or use the same password for different networks and devices, don’t give in.
Your data is worth protecting. Neil Rubenking at PC Magazine strongly recommends using
a password manager. Among Neil’s top ticks are:
- Lastpass 3.0
- Password Box Premium
- 1U Password Manager
- Dashlane 3
- Lastpass Premium 3.0
- Sticky Password Premium