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By Devina Haripersad

Senior Business/Finance journalist

SA businesses urged to acknowledge data as the ‘new currency’

Data has evolved into the most valuable asset for most businesses and, as such, is constantly under threat by hackers and SA's rolling blackouts.

Given how valuable it has become, data for many blue-chip companies in South Africa is the “new currency”

Many of these companies, however, often underestimate the volume and value of the data they generate and don’t realise how or why it is constantly under threat.

This is why Sithabile, a data management company, wants South Africans to become more data literate—or more precisely, data conscious—and realise the potential insights hidden within their data, and why it is that so many opportunists want to get their hands on it.

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The company explained that every transaction, sale, order, or return represents a wealth of valuable information. By harnessing this data and implementing effective sorting and analysis processes, it explained that businesses can gain invaluable insights that will guide their future decision-making.

Malcolm Tiley, a tech specialist at Sithabile, stressed the importance of fostering a data-driven culture within organisations. Additionally, Tiley emphasised the need to acquire the skills required for effective data management.

Volume, velocity and variety

A recent global study, conducted by Forrester Consulting under the title “Unveiling Data Challenges Afflicting Businesses Around the World,” revealed that data has evolved into the most valuable asset for most businesses. Yet they grapple with the challenges posed by the sheer volume, velocity, and variety of data.

During a roundtable discussion with the media, Tiley elaborated on the challenges businesses face with their data. Chief among them is understanding the nature of their data, how to organise it effectively, and how to protect it. Tiley cited an example where precious company data inadvertently “walks out the front door” through tools like Grammarly and ChatGPT, highlighting the need for data security awareness.

But, as Tiley emphasised, so many companies don’t realise this.

According to IBM Security’s annual Cost of a Data Breach Report, 21 companies in South Africa experienced a major data breach between March 2022 and March 2023.

In fact, he said, many are completely oblivious to the threats their data is under, including being destroyed by SA’s biggest bane at the moment: load shedding.

Data Under Threat

The rising value of data has also brought about increased threats. Tiley highlighted the issue of ransomware, which is malicious software that can block access to a computer system until a ransom is paid, effectively holding data hostage.

Power Outages

Data requires electricity. The paper The Megawatts Behind Your Megabytes estimates the Internet uses an average of about 5 kWh to support utilising one gigabyte of data.

In South Africa, power failures and load shedding pose significant risks to business data. Tiley stressed the necessity of data recovery plans to mitigate these potential losses.

Power outages can affect data in several ways: equipment can be damaged, on-site backups can fail, or live data can become unavailable, bringing business to a standstill. “Losing data is devastating, but it’s an avoidable risk with disaster recovery,” Tiley explained.

Is SA on course for a data disaster?

Not exactly. Tiley says that storing data in a cloud is generally the way to go these days, and many organisations are already doing so, often without realising it. But, according to Amith Sakalle, a cloud tech specialist at Sithabile, only 40% of companies in South Africa are doing so.

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Sakalle says one of the primary concerns preventing more widespread adoption is data security.

This is understandable, given that cloud hosts are not infallible and their systems can fail. They also give cybercriminals a specific target.

He said it was important for companies to have a hybrid approach to storing data, both onsite and in the cloud.

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