An end to data management headaches for SMEs in 2007?

The theft of a company laptop from one of Nationwide's employees a few months ago put the bank in hot water in terms of its customer data security. But, it was also a stark reminder to companies of the importance of backing up data and storing it safely off site.

Research by Yankee Group, commissioned by Telsta Europe earlier this year showed that data management is still the number one headache for IT managers and it seems that the challenge of protecting company information is set to get more difficult as we head towards 2007.

With more organisations offering remote working, now is the time for companies to rethink their data management strategies in order to safeguard against the loss of important data and protect their commercial performance next year. According to Gartner Group, on an annual basis, 15% of laptops suffer a hardware failure, 10% are stolen and 32% of data is lost as a result of user error.

A further challenge for all IT managers in large and small businesses is data storage. Regulation for data protection and archiving, such as the Freedom of Information Act and Sarbanes Oxley dictate that companies of all sizes now need to address their data storage procedures.

Furthermore, data must be securely stored and also easily retrieved on request to meet compliance procedures so data storage policies and systems need to be in place to ensure this can happen.

These new laws place additional pressure on already over-burdened IT staff and particularly those in small to medium sized companies, where one person is commonly responsible for the company's entire IT requirements.

Often, these employees aren't IT experts and have simply ended up with the responsibility for IT because they are marginally more technical than their colleagues. But, their roles are more difficult than ever - they are under pressure to meet compliance laws, manage remote workers' IT needs, securely store increased data volumes and all this in addition to being the first point of call for any network problems or Internet downtime.

This situation is serious. Not only does it place untenable stress on IT staff in small businesses but it also puts them on the front line in terms of risk. Take a typical small UK company, such as an Estates Agent or a recruitment firm - in most cases, the Internet has become not only their shop window but is relied upon to drive their entire business.

One network failure could result in a significant financial loss as well as the loss of existing and potential customers. Without a disaster and recovery framework in place, or a secure back-up system, volumes of critical business data could be lost in an instance resulting in dire consequences for the business.

So what can small businesses do to alleviate their data management challenges next year? Previously. outsourcing of IT systems was only a feasible option for larger companies, but this is no longer the case.

Smaller organisations are now finding that the pricing of managed services is more competitive than ever before and the services available are being tailored to their needs.