Poll: Execs Misjudge Disaster Threat

EMC-sponsored survey shows US business execs greatly underrate their data's vulnerability

July 15, 2003

4 Min Read
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Are technology executives from Venus and business executives from Mars? Everyone knows that men and women don't always see eye-to-eye, but it turns out that U.S. corporate executives might also need a crash-course in basic interpersonal communication.

According to a poll by market research firm RoperASW, commissioned by EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), business and IT executives in the U.S. have dramatically different perceptions of their company's disaster preparedness (see Poll: Firms Unprepared for Disaster).

The phone survey of 274 executives at billion-dollar-plus U.S. corporations showed that only 14 percent of business leaders thought their business data would be very vulnerable in the case of a disaster. In contrast, 52 percent of all technology executives surveyed said their company's business data is at risk in the event of a catastrophe.

U.S. execs were also at odds when it came to how long they think it will take to get their data back up and running in the case of a disaster. While only 9 percent of business executives said that it would take more than three days for their company's data to be retrieved after a major outage, 23 percent of all the technology execs said that it could take at least three days to get their data up and running again.

"Business executives seem to have a false sense of security," says Stacy Bereck, senior VP at RoperASW. "This either means they're not getting the right information; they're getting the right information but not understanding it; or understanding it and ignoring it." [Ed. note: Or perhaps the information came from British intelligence agencies...]One potential problem, Bereck says, is that business executives may be under the false impression that all backed-up data is easily retrievable. "I think that there's definitely a large risk here that the higher-ups in the business organization are not aware of," she says, pointing out that the flurry of new regulations and legislation will eventually force business leaders to face reality. "I think that a lot of businesses will have to play catchup." (See IM Gets Regulated, Legato Mines Iron Mountain, and Feds Set DR Regulations.)

Of course, you might expect an EMC-sponsored poll to underscore the fact that corporations need to buy more of what EMC has to sell. But Meta Group Inc. analyst Carl Greiner says the results are in line with his observations.

"I think it's pretty darn accurate," he says. "This is something that we've been looking at for years... IT has never been known to be a great communicator, [but] the responsibility really falls to the business executives."

When it comes to communicating, European executives put their American counterparts to shame, according to the poll. A separate survey RoperASW conducted of 254 senior executives in seven different European countries showed that 40 percent of all business leaders worried that their data is vulnerable, compared with 44 percent on the IT side of the house. And the executives' responses were even closer when asked how long it would take to retrieve their information in a disaster situation, with 25 percent on each side saying it would take three days or longer to resume normal business operations.

Figure 1: Source: EMC/RoperASW

Several reasons probably account for the discrepancies between the American and the European results, according to Stephen Higgins, EMC's director of business continuity marketing. "The corporate structure in Europe tends to be a lot flatter... and the communication between different [departments] tends to be a little easier," he says, adding that Europeans have traditionally been more sensitive to the possibility of geopolitical events wreaking havoc on their organizations.

Bereck agrees: "Before September 11, the U.S. was sort of in a vacuum."

So what are the chances that U.S. executives will stop talking past each other? EMC and RoperASW have decided to go back and ask executives these questions every six months to find out if their attitudes have changed at all. "Hopefully, this poll will help expand our understanding," Higgins says. "Business continuity needs to be made a priority. We need to bring it back into the boardroom."

All of the respondents to the poll, which was conducted in April and May 2003, worked for organizations with annual revenues over $1 billion, while a third of the polled executives worked for corporations making more than $5 billion a year. All of the European executives polled worked at companies with more than 1,000 employees, while 43 percent were responsible for more than 5,000 employees.

Eugénie Larson, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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