January 28, 2023 Supporting Manhattan-area entrepreneurs, businesses, events

The Cost of Data Loss

Sponsored by Connected Office by Twin Valley

What was only a hazy nightmare for most business owners materialized as Christian Dodge’s reality in an instant. He just didn’t know it yet.

“As a data loss is happening, you don’t realize how bad it is,” Dodge, the owner of St. George-based ECI Systems, explained. “It’s just gone, information we’ve had from 14 years of business. It’s a major expense. You realize you’re missing opportunities, and that’s a cost too. You have to rebuild payroll. You have an accounting nightmare.” Dodge then added soberly, “It grows as you realize how big a deal it is.”

The information loss that Dodge’s company experienced was not a data breach or a virus, the kind of thing most companies are prepared to fend off. Like most small- to mid-size businesses, ECI ensured their data would be protected through multiple backup systems. “We built our system with great firewalls, we had a virtual server used to back up our server on site, we had two external backup hard drives, and we had someone checking on back-ups,” recalled ECI’s systems coordinator, Ephraim Harrell. “We really didn’t have a concern.”

Despite their precautions, in early August of 2018, Dodge noticed his computer making what he perceived were small but easily corrected errors. These minor glitches served as the only initial warning sign the data would soon be missing.

After turning their hard drives over to a local network company for assistance, Dodge learned that the problem had started months prior when their back-up hard drives malfunctioned and stopped backing up information as designed. “It was as if someone tossed a filing cabinet off the roof and then tried to recover and organized it. When we retrieved the data that was available, it was not accessible in the order it was created. It was fragmented,” Dodge said.

The cost of the loss of data unfolded as Dodge and his staff realized not only the loss of the documents, but the widespread impact over every area of the business. “You realize the expense of it, and then the emotions come in. The insurance company wants you to put a number on it, but you don’t even know how.”

Like Dodge, more and more business owners are discovering the need for disaster recovery planning as an essential of business management. But few know where to start. Brent Dinkel, business account executive at Twin Valley Connected Office, said they work with businesses of every size to create customized disaster recovery plans, but they always start with the essentials. “We guide our clients to what we call the ‘3, 2, 1 Best Practices:’ three copies of your data on two different media sources, one of which is off-premises.”

Planning for data disaster recovery may feel irrelevant for many companies, yet as technology evolves, business leaders find themselves ill-equipped for the potential fallout resulting from a lack of IT know-how. Dodge related to this perspective, “We now understand that every company is a tech company. We used to be old school, boots on the ground, but we are now realizing that information management is one of the most important aspects of our business. We take it for granted until something happens.”

Twin Valley, a midwestern technology solutions provider with a Kansas headquarters, emphasizes disaster recovery planning as one of the most important parts of running a business. As a result, creating a customized data recovery plan is one of the core offerings of Connected Office, their suite of business solutions employed by a growing number of companies and organizations throughout the greater Manhattan area. A primary focus for Twin Valley is educating not only their clients but any business owner who may be unwittingly affected by a data loss.

The majority of small and mid-size companies like ECI are slowly beginning to recognize the importance of managing and protecting information, yet without a dedicated IT person on staff, companies often struggle to proactively handle data. Dinkel shared how this creates a conflict of personnel management for business owners. “If you don’t have a company to manage data backup for you, you have to manage the logs yourself. It’s just one extra thing on your plate. You have to watch that data backup actually happens, and if it doesn’t, you have to isolate where the problem is and attempt to restore it.”

Following his data loss crisis, Dodge realized that he needed to elevate data management to the same level of importance as accounting and other core services he employs. “I don’t want to be an expert in legal, so I have an attorney. If I’m not an expert in accounting, I need to have an accountant. And these days, if I’m not an expert in IT, I need an IT company.”

Many companies who do not have an IT-specific staff member find Connected Office particularly useful, as they benefit from the extensive Twin Valley IT expertise off-site, allowing them to focus on their area of business. Twin Valley’s Marketing Manager, Aaron Wertenberger, said, “A lot of small companies don’t have a dedicated IT department. Oftentimes a smaller business is trying to have one of their staff stand in as the IT person. We take the load off this person and step into the IT service realm to help them do their job and make their lives better.”

Dodge recalled one of the reasons he survived the data catastrophe was his insistence on having a strong team and reliable business partners in the community. “I was taught early on, surround yourself with great people. You have to do your due diligence and make sure these community business partners are on a solid foundation.” Wertenberger agreed, “One of the benefits of working with Twin Valley is the small-town approach. Our history and roots are small-town Kansas. We pride ourselves on customer service, and a lot of customer service is a customized approach. We want to understand how technology can make your business better.”

Dodge acknowledged that having the right IT partners beforehand could have saved him thousands of hours and dollars. “If we had the right company in place, we would’ve rolled in on Monday, and we wouldn’t have had a glitch. If you don’t take care of your house and care for it appropriately, you will pay for it in the long run.”

In the end, Dodge, Harrell, and the ECI team realized this was a learning opportunity for themselves, and they hope others can benefit from their mistake. Dodge and Harrell articulated that their advice for others in this situation is to have a good team and to have a good disaster recovery plan. “We looked at it as an educational event,” Dodge said. “We now know so much more about the lines of what we need to do as ECI to make sure our information is protected. Your information system is your biggest asset, next to your people. We are on the right path to make sure we have the right steps in place.”

Cover Photo by Doug Barrett

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