Keeping your company's proprietary information safe.
By Marty McGhie
A few weeks ago, one of our facilities experienced a break-in by burglars. Fortunately, the would-be thieves triggered our alarm, and they were scared off. As a result, they were not able to actually steal anything and we had zero losses. I’m guessing that many of you have probably experienced theft of one form or another in the course of your business. Like us, you have then had to figure out how to prevent something similar from happening in the future.
And while theft of personal property is, of course, bad, other types of thievery can be equally damaging to your business. Our company’s insurance broker points out that, for most businesses, the biggest risk of loss is not from a burglary like the one we nearly had. Rather, it’s actually from a company’s own employees. Further, he says, the type of property that’s most subject to theft is not a shop’s personal property, but rather its proprietary information and trade secrets.
What are these types of losses? Your company’s proprietary information and trade secrets can include customer lists, credit-card information, financial information, your customers’ intellectual property, production processes, and any other valuable information that creates a competitive advantage for your company. And, of course, there’s the embezzlement of corporate funds and fraud, something I’ve previously covered in this column (February 2011). It’s important to keep in mind that these types of losses generally come from people within your organization who are in positions of trust.
An ounce of prevention
Yes, alarm systems, surveillance cameras, security personnel, and the like can help discourage personal-property theft. But they’re not much help when it comes to proprietary information and trade secrets.
Instead, the answer is to initiate corporate policies that are clearly understood by everyone in your organization –and for you to then enforce them. For example, at our company we have each staffer sign an employee agreement when hired. This agreement specifies the terms of their employment, and it documents some standard policies of our organization. We also have everyone sign a confidentiality agreement.