Every single employee must take up arms in the battle for data security

If data is spilled, that's terrible news for any business
If data is spilled, that's terrible news for any business

One of the top goals for business leaders today is to better understand, engage with and retain their customers. This involves making the most of the ever-growing volume of customer data available to build integrated, three-dimensional profiles of customers and to identify patterns and trends. Many firms turn to the roles closest to the customer to deliver this insight.

Recent research undertaken with PwC reveals that nearly two-thirds of European and just under half of North American mid-market firms believe their marketing teams have the best skills to extract insight from information, and around half (46% and 57% respectively) say the same for their customer service and insight teams.

Yet conversations with marketing leaders reveal that the teams in question are far less confident about their ability to achieve this.

Skills gap

One study (Mind the Digital Marketing Gap, Economist Intelligence Unit, 2013) found that a third of executives believe that being able to use data analytics to extract predictive findings from big data is the top skill required of their marketing professionals. However, just under half admit their own team lacks this skill.

Another study (IBM CMO Insights, 2014) discovered that an overwhelming 82% of marketing leaders feel unprepared to deal with the data explosion, and only 59% say they have the skills to analyse and understand customer behaviour across all channels.

Despite this clearly recognised skills gap, only one in five marketing professionals were expected to receive formal training in data analysis last year (according to IDC).

In short, many firms could be passing data to teams that are ill-equipped to do it justice. Missing out on rich customer insight is just one of the risks. Our research found that marketing teams are increasingly given free access to sensitive and confidential customer information in order to extract intelligence, but are rarely held accountable for keeping it safe.

Let IT worry about it

We discovered that less than 1% of mid-market firms think teams such as marketing and customer insight should have a responsibility for information protection. Many (39%) place this responsibility firmly at the door of the IT security manager.

This is all the more worrying when you consider the fact that marketing departments are often at the forefront of flexible working practices, allowing staff to work from home or while travelling – often without providing adequate guidance and support.

We found that one in three marketing professionals works from home two to four days a week, more than most other job roles. A third undertake confidential or sensitive work while travelling on public transport; one in four throw documents into insecure bins away from the office – and 48% send or receive work documents over a personal email account, at times using an insecure wireless network (12%).

However, just a third of the employers surveyed provide secure remote intranet access for marketing professionals working from home, or offer guidelines or policies on how to handle sensitive information.

Put together, this represents a ticking data breach time bomb that could go off at any time. This can and must be prevented.

Customer information is too valuable to be treated casually. The opportunities companies have every day to capture, analyse and use information would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. Online customer registration, digital and verbal communications, browsing, social media, location, transactional and purchase data provide firms with a real opportunity to understand the behaviour and preference of their customers.

Data protection

Making such data accessible across the business for analysis and intelligence is essential for customer engagement and business growth – but the people using that data must know how to protect it, and be helped to do so.

The days when information management, storage and protection could be consigned to the back office for IT and records management are long gone. Information management is now a mission-critical process that rests in the hands of every single employee. Failure to close the gap between access and protection could have devastating consequences – for business competitiveness, sales and reputation. Setting data free is definitely not the same as casting it adrift.