Dreaming of IT and avoiding data nightmares

Richmond Events' IT manager Liam Quinn takes the editor's chair to comment on the day's news and answer your questions.

Being asked to write an article for publication is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m more used to answering questions and then telling the journalist all the bits I don’t like!

Invariably, the most stressed or satisfying times have involved data.

So to have to sit here and write something “that interests me” is more than a little foreign. When IT Pro’s editor Maggie asked me to write about something that interested me, my brain, like most others I’m sure, went completely blank.

It did, however, start me thinking about my journey as an IT professional and those moments that keep me smiling when I think back or manage to bring me out in cold sweats, 10 years or more, later.

The interesting thing is that a lot of the moments I remember have a common theme. Invariably, the most stressed or satisfying times have involved data.

Whether that’s successfully transferring the entire repository of our business from one outsourced, managed solution - sorry cloud provider - to another, clearing up the system after we’ve been infected by a virus, retrieving the only copy of a contract, business plan or database, or writing a process to allow two more of our bespoke systems to talk to each other, data is at the heart of all we do.

Over the past 16 years, the biggest problems have always come from when we’ve lost data. We’ve done a lot to mitigate that over the years, implemented a lot of different systems and spent a lot of money in the process.

First off, came the humble anti-virus program to help our users help themselves when they insisted on bringing in the latest screen saver on a floppy disk. Then it was the email scanner when they realised they didn’t need the floppy disk to get it onto their PC.

We put in transaction logging onto the SQL databases so we could get back the records they managed to delete “accidentally”. Then we moved everyone onto a central, Citrix-based system so they didn’t lose that all important email or file when they managed to drop/break/lose their laptop.

All these systems and improvements mean that we don’t lose data anymore. We’ve got really good at saving everything. As tin has got cheaper, we don’t worry about the expense of needing terabytes of data storage, we just increase the processing power to make it all run smoothly. But where will it end?

I have users with more than 10,000 emails in their inbox who complain they can’t find the one they need. I have project teams who can’t work out which of the hundreds of emails they sent to thousands of recipients made someone attend our events.

I have a boss who thinks we should be able to work out which of our 30 events is the most efficient in how they build their event. But we all know the issues around Big Data.

What really keeps me awake now is: How do I prevent someone in my company, a trusted colleague or friend, at the click of a button, emailing some or all of that data to a competitor and sharing a large chunk of our intellectual property that we’ve built over the years?

I can’t strip attachments, because it’s a part of everyone’s job and I don’t have the resources to check all the attachments that do leave the company.

Answers, gratefully received, on a postcard or via any other medium. Except, of course, on a floppy disk...

Liam Quinn is IT manager at Richmond Events, a London-based business-focused events management firm