A survey of the world's largest companies has found that one third have no contingency plans for dealing with the impact on IT systems of major disasters.
The Economist Intelligence Unit interviewed senior executives worldwide about plans for disaster recovery, and found that only two thirds had any kind of plan in place. Of those that did the quality was highly variable and some plans had not been fully documented and distributed.
"People working in the industry tell us that their plans are very much in their infancy," said Gareth Lefthouse, director of executive services at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
"The systems that are in place have seldom been tested and are not always up to scratch."
UK firms did poorly in the survey. Only 25 per cent indicated that disaster recovery planning is a long-term priority, compared to 45 per cent of US companies. UK firms also have significantly less confidence in the integrity of their financial data than their US counterparts.
The attacks of 11 September had focused minds on the potential problems but regulation is also an issue, according to Bill Archer, president of AT&T Europe, which co-sponsored the survey.
"Business continuity planning has got better since 9/11, mostly out of necessity but also because of mandatory requirements," he said.
"A financial operation will not get started if it cannot demonstrate that it can cope with unexpected circumstances."
Archer stressed the importance of testing as well as making plans. The study found that over a quarter of companies had never tested their disaster recovery plans, and one in 10 had not conducted a test in the past two years.
A particularly worrying finding in the research is that companies are not paying attention to the fate of their customers if things go wrong.
When it came to losing earnings or data about two thirds of executives expressed concern, but less than half were worried about damaging the company brand and barely a third cared about the cost to their customers.
"Companies need to worry as much about their reputation as they do about preserving infrastructure," said Lefthouse. "It may be a lot easier to recover data than to repair customer relationships."
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