In light of recent news about rigged elections and what feels like a weekly occurrence of random cyber attacks against major online platforms, I just want to take a moment and talk about your data. This is not going to be yet another reminder to always use strong passwords with Greek hyphens and foreign symbols – instead, I am going to give you a few points to consider when you are looking at software for your business. The security and integrity of any software – invoicing, point-of-sale, inventory, email and especially when you are looking at CRM and lead management systems – need to be one hundred percent solid.
Is it secure?
Every piece of software connected to the Internet –which is just about everything these days– can be targeted by hackers. Most hacking attempts aren’t necessarily targeted by any specific person for any particular reason – most of the time it is malicious software simply sitting around on computers that have been programmed to spend 24 hours a day looking for vulnerable systems around the world. And a robust layer of security can minimize your risk of being targeted by all the evil megahertz out there.
Any system you want to trust with your data should be encrypted with an SSL, first and foremost. An SSL certificate allows secure connections from a web server, where the software is hosted, to your computer. You’ll notice a padlock in your web browser when a connection is secured with an SSL. That’s what online banks use, and it’s what every legitimate piece of online software uses too. Don’t see one? Run away. As fast as you can. An SSL certificate doesn’t ensure the system is secure by default, but it is a great indicator that they take security -and your privacy- seriously.
Who owns the data?
A shocking number of technology platforms consider you to be an uninvited guest in their house from a policy standpoint, and anything you do in there belongs to them. On a large scale, most social media networks claim ownership of all your data. Every piece of data you’ve ever published on your Facebook or Twitter profile is legally theirs as soon as you submit it. This is all fine and dandy to most people, because many of us don’t really care all that much about the user policy in regards to our #throwbackthursday photo from high school prom.
What is important, however, is when you store company data on digital platforms. Some crucial questions you have to ask include, is this really private? Are they using your data in any way? Can they use the data for their own benefit? What happens to all my data if I want to cancel? Who are the people behind the platform? Is it a technology company? Have they built the product themselves or did they outsource it? Is there any way our data can get in the hands of anybody else? A competitor maybe?
Where is the information stored?
Software can be run in many different ways, but even if you don’t care one bit about technology, a basic understanding of what you are using will allow you to tell the difference between a quality product and something that’s been hacked together .
One of the first questions you should ask a potential software vendor is how you actually use it. Do you download and install it on your computer? Does it come in a box? Does an IT person need to come in and install a server in your janitor’s closet? Or do you simply access it online through your web browser like most modern software? If you do, where is the software physically located? If you are shopping around for software that runs over the internet, make sure they use a state of the art data center facility where it’s monitored 24/7, and not something out of their office that a guy named Chad who comes in every other Wednesday is responsible for.
How do they handle your questions and support issues?
Let’s be clear – every piece of software comes with flaws. Some things will break, and other things will be confusing and have to be explained. Which is why you always want to have a direct and simple line of communication between you and your software provider. Do they have support staff? How are they teaching you and your staff to use it? Are they charging you for that? What is the average response time for a question? And whatever you do, don’t ask them “how much the software costs” – ask them how much it actually costs in the end to have your whole staff fully educated and up and running on their platform. The difference between those two questions with many “affordable” software providers will absolutely shock you.