The Value of Data

A few minutes after I sat down to write this article my laptop unexpectedly shut down. In the process of shutting down I was given a message that something had gone wrong and I should contact my administrator.

Because I was in a public place I needed to mask the mild panic that was upon me when I considered the data loss I could possibly incur. It’s funny how we hardly think about data loss until we are staring it in the face.

My wife recently experienced a hardware fault on her Macbook. We took it in for repairs and were advised that the hard drive had crashed and had to be replaced. We were also advised that we could take it to data specialists who could attempt a low level data recovery.

When I enquired about this data recovery I was advised that the cost would be approximately R4000. The scary thing is that we seriously considered paying for this when considering what would be otherwise lost.

All of us have lost data at some point in our computer usage. For example, did you ever get to the end of typing a long email only to click the wrong button by mistake and lose everything? Ever have your phone stolen, lost or dropped in the toilet to realise that you didn’t have a back-up of your contact list and need to start all over again? Ever have someone record over your favourite TV show? Well maybe my last example is a little dated but I’m sure you get my point. Digital data is becoming part of our daily lives at an exponential rate and the loss thereof is starting to become more and more severe.

Types of data to consider

When you think about it you would probably be surprised at how much different data is important to you. As an exercise take a few minutes to think about the different types of data you have on your computer and whether you have back-ups of them.

Some examples to consider include the following:


Most commonly these would include all your word Documents, Excel documents, Power Point presentations. Are these valuable to you and are they backed up?

Business Data

This would include your client database, your sales records, client appointment bookings, staff salary structures and histories, price lists, stock levels and more.

This information is invaluable to your business. Do you have backups and what would you do if you were to lose this information?


Email back-ups are a little deceptive as Email is something that is not often considered when doing back-ups. However, within email correspondence lies negotiations, agreements with suppliers, enquiries from clients and much more. Business Emails should very rarely be deleted unless they are spam. Email profiles should also be backed up and moved to your new computer if you ever change computers so that you do not lose value communication history.

Photos and Videos

These days we are taking pictures and videos all the time, whether from your cell phone, camcorder or digital camera. These should be moved off these devices regularly and stored in more than one place, ie on a computer and on a back-up drive. The threat of hardware failure as well as theft is a strong reality as the image capturing devices are small and portable making them high risk targets.

What’s it worth to you?

I think that there are three questions you need to ask yourself when considering what data is worth to you?

  • Will it be possible to recover or recreate the lost data?
  • How much work are you willing to do in order to recreate the data?
  • How much are you willing to pay to recover the data?

If you took data like family photos it will be very difficult (if not impossible) to recreate because these are moments captured in time and if they were photos of your children growing up then how do you go back in time to recreate them?

The value attached to these photos has a sentimental value rather than a direct monetary value. However, depending on the emotions of the person losing the data this sentimental value could translate into monetary value very quickly if they were offered a way to recover their lost memories.

If it came to business data there would be far less sentimental value, although you may feel very emotional after finding out that you have just lost all your business data. If someone came to you and said your computer’s hard drive has crashed and there are no back-ups of your data, what price would you be willing to pay to recover this lost data? It’s scary to think about the numbers that pop into your head. For example if your client contact list (the goodwill of your business) was lost it would devalue your business. Imagine someone was interested in buying your salon and you told them that you had just lost all your client information; they may very well wish to re-negotiate the price with you.

Ways to lose data

Data loss is not a matter of IF it happens, it is a matter of WHEN it happens and it happens in many different ways. Below are some of the ways in which it can happen and some of the implications.


Fire is relatively straight forward and easy to understand. Your computer burns up and the data on the computer is gone. The problem with fire is that back-ups that may have been stored on the same premises will most likely be destroyed as well. If you store your back-ups in the safe on the same premises you will need to ensure that the safe is fireproof. This highlights the need for off-site back-ups.

Hardware Theft

Hardware theft happens all the time (especially in our beloved country). Laptops are much easier to steal than PC’s. The problem with theft is that you are not afforded the opportunity of data recovery because you no longer have access to the computer unless in the unlikely event that the perpetrator is caught and your computer recovered. On the up side your on-site back-ups will hopefully not have been stolen. If you are using a laptop in your reception area then ensure you lock it to the reception desk.

When you transport your laptop you put it at very high risk of being stolen, either from your car, your home or out of its bag while you are in transit. Avoid altogether using your business laptop as your private laptop, this is asking for trouble. If you have no choice then ensure that you back up as regularly as possible.

Hardware failure

Hardware failure is probably the most common cause of data loss. This could be in the form of partial data corruption caused by the computer resetting unexpectedly or some other malfunction or complete data loss when a hard drive has crashed completely.

The chances for data recovery are better than with theft and fire because at least you have the computer and it has not been damaged by the elements but there are no guarantees and as already mentioned data recovery can be expensive. Also if your only back-ups were stored on the hard drive that crashed then you may be in trouble.

User errors or abuse

One of the most avoidable ways of data loss, but a reality nonetheless, is loss due to user error or abuse. This could be that a user deletes important information or removes it from your hard drive altogether.

Prevention in these cases lies in knowing what data is sensitive or important and creating policies and procedures to restrict access.


Viruses are extremely common and new viruses are being created all the time. Ensure that you have a good anti-virus program installed and ensure that the virus definitions are always up to date so that you are protected from new viruses.

Control access to Internet and Email at work and as a general rule don’t open emails from senders that you do not recognise, especially if there is an attachment.

External abuse

Other threats include hackers and even ex-staff members who may still have access to your computer. It is good practise to change access passwords regularly (especially after a staff member leaves).

Talk to your I.T administrator about a firewall to protect yourself from hackers gaining access to your computer.

Ways to back up your data

There are numerous ways to back up your data. For your business computer talk to your I.T administrator about daily backups of your hard drive as well as ensuring that regular back-ups are taken off site.

A number of great free tools are available these days to back up your data via the Internet. These include services like DropBox, which allow you to easily create different folders that you can quickly drop data into, which will be automatically uploaded to your DropBox account online.

You will then be able to access this data from any location with an Internet connection. Some services automatically synchronise with your various devices via the web like Google contacts and appointments, which is great for re-setting up your phone or laptop without worrying about physically having to copy any data.

You can also back up your data yourself using a zip drive but be careful not to lose it as these have a nasty habit of disappearing.

The questions to remember are always how much am I willing to do or spend if I lost all of my data now?