One of the hot topics of 2014 so far has been data security and the importance of keeping personal information secure. Huge stories such as the ongoing drama over the PRISM surveillance programme have placed this issue at the top of many consumers’ lists when it comes to something they demand from a company, and firms need to be seen to respond or else find themselves left behind by more security-conscious competitors.

However, this places firms in something of a bind; they need to ensure that they keep customer-focused information as safe as possible, but the emergence of big data analytics means that there is more of it than ever before, and the businesses that utilise it effectively can steal a march on their competitors.

Obviously, the solution isn’t simply to ignore the huge benefits big data can offer, particularly as the market matures.

It also wouldn’t be wise to dismiss the valid concerns many consumers have around the issue of information security.

So what can businesses do to take advantage of big data while also meeting their customers’ demands?

Security concerns

A recent survey from the Direct Marketing Association expressed positivity about how the industry is performing but noted that many consumers are still concerned about the use of information.

The authors estimate that direct marketing in the UK grew by approximately 8.6 per cent in 2013, but highlighted the fact that “negative connotations are impacting the market with regard to spam mail, e-mail and nuisance telephone calls being seen as invasive”.

“There are concerns that this will implicate the direct marketing industry by threatening access to the likes of customer database lists. However, it is evident that the personalisation of campaigns, which comes from accessing individual information and personal details, proves to be effective and drives a direct response to campaigns,” the study revealed.

CRM is an important part of managing these databases, as well as keeping the information they involve centralised in one location, thus making it easier to maintain its security and integrity.

The Internet of Things

As the Internet of Things becomes increasingly important and more technology is connected to the web, businesses will have even more data to take on board, meaning the bind alluded to at the start of the article is getting even more pronounced.

Tom Hostler, managing partner at digital agency Poke, recently told Marketing Week that the current situation with the Internet of Things is making many firms conscious of the need to develop their data processes.

CRM can help with this, as long as it is well-integrated and utilised effectively.

The more information a company is taking on, the more it needs to ensure that it can manage it, and having the right software in place is a big part of that.

Mr Hostler predicts that more smart products will emerge over the coming decade, leading to an exponential growth in the Internet of Things.

“Where it gets exciting is when these devices and networks are joined and the data sets can be combined, overlaid and patterns detected. This creates a new era in smart services and insight-driven marketing,” he concluded.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

CRM vendors, as well as the users of their service, need to be aware of the importance of security when it comes to developing their software.

With this in mind, the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Trust Centre was set up as a way to underline the tech giant’s commitment to security and assuage any fears buyers might have over the way it stores and structures personal information.

It puts forward a series of so-called ‘online trust principles’ – a commitment to the privacy of consumers, to becoming an industry leader in the field of transparency, to complying with third-party regulations on security and to constantly updating their approach to cope with the changes taking place in the tech landscape.

“We have developed our practices and policies as a result of over fifteen years of experience in providing security for online data. Microsoft’s Security Development Lifecycle ensures security and privacy is incorporated by design from software development through service operations,” the organisation declared.

Choosing the right CRM provider is crucial for businesses that want to be seen as secure and interested in the privacy of their consumers; those firms that have a strong ethos around this issue, such as Microsoft, will help strengthen that part of their image.

Of course, this is only part of the issue – companies need to take the initiative and ensure that their approach towards data security is proactive, or risk suffering serious reputation damage.