Keeping your electronic files safe

Recently I’ve been working with some small business owners who don’t have any back-up system for their electronic business transactions.  I’m not talking about their financial transactions or stock inventories as they are usually captured in some formal system that is backed up off site or written manually by hand.

It’s things like the contact lists of their clients and suppliers, their business planning documents, correspondence with prospective clients etc.

If they are using email for correspondence, they may leave the messages in their email system. However these are the very items that need to be saved somewhere outside the email system so they can be retrieved.

If your computer crashes, its stressful enough trying to get your documents, spreadsheets and databases back.  Email is notoriously difficult to retrieve if your computer crashes and often you can’t retrieve it at all.

So if you don’t have your electronic information stored somewhere safe, then please start NOW.  Don’t wait for disaster to happen.

There are many ways to store your important data.  For small amounts you can use CDs.  But more commonly now you can use a portable hard drive.  These now cost less than $100 and simply plug into a USB port on your computer.

The key to using one of these portable drives is to remember to do the back up.  To decide on how often you will do a backup, you need to work out the risks to you business if you lose updates. If your system crashes and can’t be easily restored, can you afford to redo an hour’s work? A day’s work? A week’s work?

Even cheaper are small removable USB flash drives.  These are great, easy to use but also easy to lose.  So take care.

Then you can decide which important information needs to be backed up. So do you want to save all your updates? Or just some of them? How do you decide what’s important?

Another way to back up your data is to store it in the ‘cloud’ – no not the one on the Auckland waterfront!  I’m talking about what is known as ‘cloud computing’.  This term is used to cover a wide range of activities in the big world-wide web.  I’m interested in exploring services that enable storage (and sharing) of files and folders on the Internet.

A couple of options include:

Dropbox is a Web-based file hosting service that uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files and folders with others across the Internet.  You can update files on your own computer and they automatically get stored in Dropbox.  You can access them from any place where you have internet access, even if you don’t have your own laptop with you.

Google docs also provides storage for your files outside your computer in much the same way as on Dropbox.

Advantages of services like Dropbox and Google Docs is that you can access your files from wherever you are and you can share files with other people that you have authorised to access them. These features are in addition to having a backup storage facility.

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