As a manager at a small-to-medium-sized business (SMB), you're undoubtedly aware of the pivotal role data plays. Having the right set of tools to manage this data is crucial, it's often challenging to find solutions that can scale as your business grows. Without these tools, you risk losing important insights about what's going well in your business and how to plan for more growth.
A robust data management strategy can help. It can also make your business run more smoothly by reducing human error, save you time on manual data entry, and help you make smarter business decisions.
Let's go over how you can manage your data more consistently and efficiently, and what kinds of tools you'll need for the job.
Importance of proper data management
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is a common sticking point for SMBs. The apps they're using to run their operation generate all kinds of data, but it's trapped in silos that might be bridged together with integrations locked to the higher pricing tiers. These solutions can't be customized to the changing needs of the business, and as the business grows their system holds them back from reaching their full potential.
To compensate, many SMBs turn to tools such as Excel and Zapier to glue together apps and services. Zapier and other automation tools can create makeshift integrations that aren't available, and spreadsheets are often used as databases.
This causes issues with data inconsistency, human error in data entry or formula calculations, and difficulties in sharing data across different departments. Additionally, using Excel for large data sets can lead to performance issues, making it an unreliable foundation for your business's operations.
An effective data management strategy is the solution to these challenges. With an all-purpose ERP system and the right business intelligence tools, you can improve business processes such as online accounting and get ready for the next stage in your business's growth. Whatever you're using, let's look at eight ways you can manage data consistently and start working more effectively.
8 proven ways to manage data consistently
SMBs need good data management tools to stay on top of things. But without a strong IT team with some software development talent, SMBs can't afford to create everything from scratch.
It's hard to balance the need for standard systems and processes you can adjust. But two leading platforms, Sage and Ninox, can help.
Ninox is a modular and flexible low-code platform for automating key ERP processes. It's easy for anyone at an SMB to build what they need from quick integrations to a full project management platform or CRM. This is essential for all process-driven industry sectors including photovoltaic, construction and real estate, as well as fast-growing startups that need the flexibility.
Sage is an industry-leading ERP solution popular in niches such as accounting and HR. These are sectors that involve a lot of standard processes, compliance standards, and no room for human error. Sage's systems handle those processes while integrating data from elsewhere in the company, making it very useful for SMBs who want everything they need in one place.
Both platforms help businesses manage their data more consistently. By using Sage for ERP, you can do more with one flexible platform and manage your data in one place. With Ninox, you can build the automatic processes you need to collect and feed data into Sage, giving you the best of both worlds.
Establish well-defined data collection procedures
One key step for SMBs to manage data well is to create clear rules for collecting data. With so many places to get data from, it is vital for SMBs to have a standard way to gather and organize this information. They might be bound by GDPR, HIPAA or other data protection legislation that determines how they can collect and store information on your clients, and who's responsible for overseeing that.
Having clear rules for data collection helps ensure that the data you receive is consistent and of high quality. These rules could be as simple as making sure everyone enters data in the same way, or as complex as deciding how often data needs to be collected and updated..
Implement consistent data validation and verification
Data can only be compared if it's consistent. If it's not, at best you get an error message. The worst case is that the error remains undetected and starts to distort your results.
You need to check that your data is complete and properly formatted, but that takes time that no one may have.
One way inconsistencies can arise is when data is transferred from one system to another. By moving to more comprehensive tools, such as an online ERP, there's less need to sit down and check that everything is correct. It also makes it easier to automate data validation and reformatting.
Ensure robust data security measures
With GDPR and similar legislation carrying hefty fines for violations, data security needs to be a top priority for SMBs.
But doing this on-site requires dedicated IT and cyber security teams. This is one reason why many SMBs are turning to cloud-based services to handle their customer data.
Combine this infrastructure with software that has good security in place, such as role-based access control, and you're off to a good start in protecting the data that is critical to your business.
Comply with industry standards and regulations
Consistent data management is important because the way you manage data is governed by regulations. Some of these include
HIPAA: Determines how organizations in healthcare store and process-sensitive patient data.
PCI DSS: Determines how companies processing credit card transactions should handle and store that data securely.
GDPR: Requires companies to follow certain processes around storing the personally-identifying information of EU citizens, wherever in the world that company is.
Sarbanes-Oxley-Act: Regulates how publicly-traded companies manage their financial reports, which are all about data.
You can't achieve this with technology alone. If the way you manage data is subject to regulation, you'll need to set up data governance teams to make sure everyone stays compliant. They'll monitor how data is processed and stored, and conduct regular audits using the latest policies to keep up with changes in regulations. They'll also provide training to ensure that everyone who works with data is following the same rules.
Provide extensive staff training on proper data handling
In SMBs, where people have to wear several hats, data management is not just the job of the IT department. That's why it's so important to teach everyone how to handle data properly. Training can include how to spot phishing attempts and how to share data securely. Using cloud software with built-in security features can help, but people need to know how to use it.
Identify appropriate data storage solutions
Managing your data consistently may mean putting it all in one system, but not all data storage solutions are created equal. Services such as Amazon S3, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure Blob are an affordable way for everyone in the company to store files in shared folders. It's easy to use and accessible from anywhere in the world, but you're subject to your provider's own privacy and security practices.
Traditional on-premises storage can be tightly controlled and configured to meet any compliance framework. If an auditor comes knocking, they can be shown around by someone on the team who knows the whole system inside out. On the other hand, you'll need to invest in infrastructure and a team to maintain it. As the business grows and your needs change, you may find that on-premises systems are harder to scale as needed compared to a cloud solution.
Implement version control mechanisms to track data changes
When handling data is critical to your business, version control mechanisms become an essential part of your toolbox. These systems track every change made to a file, who made it, and keep a record of every previous version of the file. This has several advantages:
You don't lose data because of someone's mistake.
Managers can approve changes before they are made to the document.
You have a complete audit trail of who made what changes and when. This is important for documents such as financial reports or contracts, especially if several people are working on them.
You can let several people make changes to a file without fear of someone making a mistake, helping everyone to work more freely and efficiently.
Back up data regularly
One of the benefits of an all-in-one solution is that everyone can work in one system. But when you're collaborating on sensitive data and documents, you can't risk someone else's mistake messing up your work. That's why you need a version control process, where previous versions of your work are archived and the 'current' or 'canonical' version is carefully controlled.Your cloud system may have built-in data version control tools. Another advantage of keeping everything in one system is that you only need to back up one thing. If your company's networks suffer a massive failure, or even a ransomware attack, you can simply revert the system to a previous version.
If the automatic backup was taken two hours before the incident, you're simply 'rewinding' the entire state of the business to where it was at the time - you don't have to worry about restoring every single device.
Benefits of proper data management
Today, SMBs deal with a lot of data. They are always trying to find ways to manage this data well and use it to help their businesses grow. Many are moving from legacy systems to using complete solutions such as Sage and Ninox.
It's not just about using new, easier-to-use software. It's about improving the way they do business and creating a more streamlined experience for their customers. It reduces errors, makes data more useful and ultimately leads to better decisions.
Whatever tools you're using, let's look at some of the benefits of a proper data management plan in more detail.
Improves data protection and compliance
Under GDPR, all businesses are under increasing scrutiny for how they manage data. And you may be subject to very strict regulations, depending on the sector you're in and the country you operate in. Having a clear, consistent data management process gives you something to point to when compliance officers want to see how you're handling your customers' information.
Streamlines operational workflow
When a business has a good system for handling data, it can work more efficiently. You can easily handle lots of data from a variety of sources, which means you can do more to improve the way you work.
Robust data backup and recovery capabilities
For SMBs, a data loss could be a disaster. Handling data consistently is a key part of data backup and recovery processes. By collecting and storing data consistently, it's easier to back everything up. There's no worry about mission-critical data being lost on someone's broken machine.
That's one advantage of cloud ERP solutions like Sage. By moving your mission-critical data and processes to the cloud, you can handle it all in one safe place. Staff can get everything they need, from any device, anytime, anywhere, with internet access.
Enhances business intelligence
With effective data management software, you can open the door to using business intelligence (BI) in everything you do.
BI puts all the data-driven results that matter to your business on one screen. If your business runs on weekly reports, you can generate them automatically. But an automated ERP solution gives you the option of real-time dashboards. The IT team can see the health of the system at a glance, anyone working with inventory can see current stock levels, and business leaders can see movement on KPIs as it happens.
Managing data consistently with Ninox and Sage
Your business is using more and more data every year, so good data management software is essential.
When your teams can collect and manage data well, you can start turning it into real information. Good data capture helps your business run smoothly, improves customer experience and makes compliance effortless. Together, Ninox and Sage help you follow your own clearly defined processes, while giving you the flexibility to adapt as you grow.
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