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Digital information costs businesses worldwide $1.1 trillion annually, a new study said.

From confidential customer information, to intellectual property, to financial transactions, organizations possess massive amounts of information that not only enable them to be competitive and efficient – but also stay in business, said the first ever “State of Information Survey” from Symantec Corp. In fact, the survey revealed digital information makes up 49 percent of an organization’s total value.

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“The vast amount of information that organizations produce today can help them better serve their customers and increase productivity. However, the same information can also become a major liability if it is not properly protected. Companies that effectively use their information will have a major competitive advantage over those who cannot, and in some cases it can be the difference between success and failure,” said Francis deSouza, group president, Enterprise Products and Services, Symantec. “With its increasing value and rising cost, successful companies will find ways to more effectively protect their information and unleash the productivity it can bring.”

Businesses of all sizes are dealing with enormous amounts of data. The total size of information stored today by all businesses is 2.2 zettabytes. Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) on average have 563 terabytes of data, compared with the average enterprise that has 100,000 terabytes. The survey also reveals information should grow 67 percent over the next year for enterprises and 178 percent for SMBs.

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On average, enterprises spend $38 million annually on information, while SMBs spend $332,000. However, the yearly cost per employee for SMBs is a lot higher at $3,670, versus $3,297 for enterprise. For example, a typical 50-employee small business spends $183,500 on information management, whereas a typical large enterprise with 2,500 employees would spend $8.2 million.

The consequences of losing business information would be disastrous.

“We would have to fold our operations for at least a couple of years before we’d come back again,” noted an IT manager at a large engineering firm when asked about the consequences of losing the enterprise’s information. Respondents highlighted the impact of data loss to their business, including lost customers (49 percent), damage to reputation and brand (47 percent), decreased revenue (41 percent), increased expenses (39 percent) and a tumbling stock price (20 percent).

With so much at stake, protecting information should be a top priority, yet businesses are still struggling. In the last year, 69 percent of businesses experienced some form of information loss for reasons, such as human error, hardware failure, security breach, or lost and stolen devices. In addition, 69 percent have had confidential information exposed outside of the company, and 31 percent have experienced compliance failures related to information. Another challenge is the amount of duplicate information businesses are storing – an average of 42 percent of data duplicated. Storage utilization is also low, at only 31 percent within the firewall and 18 percent outside.

All these risks and inefficiencies result in businesses spending more than necessary on storing and protecting their information. A key issue identified by 30 percent of businesses is information sprawl – the overwhelming growth of unorganized information that is difficult to access and often duplicated elsewhere.

To help businesses more effectively protect their information, Symantec has the following recommendations:
• Focus on the information, not the device or data center: With BYOD and cloud, information is no longer within the four walls of a company. Protection must focus on the information, not the device or data center.
• Not all information is equal: Business must be able to separate useless data from valuable business information and protect it accordingly.
• Be efficient: Deduplication and archiving help companies protect more, but store less to keep pace with exponential data growth.
• Consistency is key: It is important to set consistent policies for information that can be enforced wherever it’s located … physical, virtual and cloud environments.
• Stay agile: Plan for your future information needs by implementing a flexible infrastructure to support continued growth.

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