CRM – Whose Data Is it Anyway?

The data your company holds is one of your most important assets, too important to be trusted just to a proprietary system. We’ve taken a few calls from friends in the last month along the lines of “I’ve bought a new iPod and now it won’t play my old music files”. The reason is because Apple encrypts its music files using its proprietary DRM (Digital Rights Management) which can prevent a music file being played on any other device as an anti-piracy measure including, until the problem was sorted, our friends’ new iPods. Now this is not the right forum for a debate on the rights and wrongs of DRM, but it did bring home to us the importance of ensuring that you can always access your data.

Over the years we all accumulate data and often it is held in a product’s proprietary format. At Really Simple Systems we’ve been loading data from a few clients’ old Goldmine systems, and like many pre-SQL systems the data files are held in a proprietary format. As our clients were still using the product on a daily basis they could run an export of the data, but the only useful export format was dBase V, another proprietary format from many years ago. Luckily we make a point of keeping old database products so we loaded it up and the data came in reasonably clean. However, it again made the point that if your data is locked into a vendor’s product it’s not that easy to get it back again.

Data Storage

As well as the data format preventing you getting back your data, the media format you store your back-ups on can also be a problem. Over the years people have backed up their data onto floppies, tapes, zip drives and other eclectic media. As the years go by media formats go out of date: many PCs don’t have floppy drives now. If your important document is on a 5½” floppy, you’re in trouble. And the rate of change is accelerating, be aware of the longevity about burning your data on a CD.

According to Kurt Gerecke, storage expert at IBM in Germany

“Unlike pressed original CDs, burned CDs have a relatively short life span of between two to five years, depending on the quality of the CD”

He recommends tape.

So if you want to be able to access your data in five years’ time, for either legal or sentimental reasons:

  • Make sure that the data is held in a standard format
  • Keep a copy of the programme that can read the data with the backup, including the archival software if used
  • Every two or three years, reload the data onto new, current, media
  • Don’t forget the password!

So what’s this got to do with web-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM)? Well, all of the above assumes that you have a copy of your data in the first place. Many hosted application vendors make it hard to get a complete copy of your data, to lock you in. At Really Simple Systems we allow users to have a complete copy of their data dumped into a Microsoft Access database whenever they want, or backed up directly to their own servers every night. If you are using another hosted application, make sure that you get a monthly copy of your data, in a format that you can read, and add it to your normal backup process. Otherwise, when you switch the service off, the data is lost!

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