THE CHALLENGE created by the loss of intellectual capital is often seen by SMEs by the impact on the business when a key specialist or senior manager changes jobs.
Principal defences tend to be 'golden handcuffs' (high pay and incentives) and restraint of trade clauses in the employment contract.
Yet a flight of intellectual capital doesn't only occur when people transfer their skills, but when data is transferred from a company's system and surfaces to elsewhere, perhaps to a competitor. Locally, data security receives little attention, especially in comparison with a market like America where most states have data protection laws, and litigation by a compromised consumer or customer is an ever-present risk.
Our SMEs have an incentive to tighten up their data security well ahead of legal compulsion as the realisation is slowly growing that loss of data can be life-threatening to a company.
The most likely transfer vehicle is small, cheap and seemingly innocuous - the flash drive.
Less than 10cm long with a mass of less than 55g, the ubiquitous 'memory stick' slips easily into a pocket and may dangle from a key-ring. But with storage capacity of up to 64GB, the device can carry a mountain of information.
SMEs often set up rigorous controls to prevent pilferage; yet an employee can walk out unchallenged with a flash drive containing sensitive strategic, product and customer information - material that in the wrong hands could damage the business.
Transfer on to a flash drive does not need to be a deliberate act of theft or act of malice. Risks can be the same in cases of carelessness and naivety.
The bad news is that this risk grows as a company's IT reliance increases. The good news is that rigorous security protocols can easily be written into customised IT automation frameworks that enable remote, cost-effective and efficient management of IT infrastructure, network components, servers and desktop PCs.
Simply put, the 'flash drive to potential disaster' can be stopped in a flash by remotely controlling information access.
In data management terms it's a quick fix ... making it all the more baffling that so many companies simply don't get around to it.
About the author: Arno Joubert is managing partner of Omniholdings.
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