Take care to safeguard computer records

Safeguarding the future of your farm business demands careful attention and never more so than when it comes to preserving the integrity of the data files on your office computer.

Whether they are spray records, livestock movements, RPA mapping returns or single farm payment applications, computer records drive the modern farm business. Losing them to fire, flood, theft or data corruption could jeopardise the farm’s very future.

Indeed, research by London Chamber of Commerce shows 90% of businesses that lose data due to a disaster are so severely impacted that they are forced to shut down within two years.

Many think it will never happen to them. Yet every year farms face catastrophe, losing all their computer records to a range of disasters. Many have no back-up system, so have no fall-back. Even those that do can find data less helpful than expected, being incomplete, out-of-date or corrupt, because it has been stored near a mobile phone or speaker system. Up to 70% of back-ups to other media such as tape or memory sticks have subsequently been found to be corrupt.

To solve such headaches Hampshire farmer Simon McCowen has devised a swift, simple, online service. “Farming businesses seemed to be hugely vulnerable, but there is nothing on the market dedicated to them. It’s all either for corporate businesses or home users.”

Access to high-speed internet connections is a case in point. “Everyone has experienced the interminable delay while large files download. It is something farmers don’t want. Neither do they want the hassle of having to initiate back-ups themselves.”

Boxit4backup overcomes both obstacles. “To minimise download times we send clients a mobile hard-drive for the first back-up. That is the big one, which we then upload onto the servers. Subsequent back-ups then simply update new data and changes, so are far faster to do.”

The service is automatic, users setting their own schedule – daily, weekly, monthly – whatever suits the business. “There’s no value if the back-ups aren’t done routinely,” says Mr McCowen.

“We also have a telephone helpdesk geared up to handle the specific needs of farmers. This is a service designed by a farmer, to help other farmers, who have largely been priced and confused out of the market by what is currently on offer,” Mr McCowen stresses.

Indeed, with a 1200ha (3000-acre) farming business near Alresford, Hampshire, he is keenly aware of the growing pressure for farms to handle ever greater volumes of data. “Whether it is spraying records or RPS claims, we’re all handling more electronic data and it is increasingly critical to the business. We need to know we can retrieve that information if something goes wrong.”

Cost is kept low since the data needs of farm businesses are less than those of corporate clients, with 3GB of storage available for £7.50 a month, plus a £15 initial fee for post and packing for the hard drive.

Boxit4backup is not Mr McCowen’s first diversification venture. He developed BoxIt, a successful storage and retrieval business for company office records, using redundant farm buildings near Winchester. “We handle 300,000 boxes of paper documents every year. That’s a pile of boxes 57 miles high. We have enough storage racking to stretch from Winchester to Southampton and back and the 12 delivery vans working from this site alone do 40,000 miles a year each.” Turnover across 13 franchised sites is £6m.

But is boxit4backup secure? “Absolutely,” explains product development manager and software specialist Simon Ellis. “Everything is encrypted, so is completely meaningless to anybody else. Only the farmer, who sets the password, can un-encrypt it. Even we can’t access the data. But it does mean the farmer needs to remember his or her password. Forget it and there’s nothing we can do.”

For reliability data is stored at two huge data centres in Manchester and Sheffield, held on two separate servers at each facility for added protection, Mr Ellis explains.

“If the farm office burned down, a new computer could be up and running with the full farm database in 24 hours. It is a business safeguard that provides real reassurance in these days when online data and forms are such an important part of the farming business,” Mr McCowen concludes.

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More than 3000 clients

Modified farm buildings equipped with humidity-controllers, smoke detectors and intruder alarms

Boxes tracked by bar codes

Efficient retrieval means 99.9% next day delivery

Green credentials: ISO 14001 covers everything from monitoring fuel required to store and deliver each box to carbon footprint of delivery vehicles

Scan-on-demand proving a popular alternative to returning physical files