Businesses in the pharmaceutical industry are leading the way when it comes to ensuring that vital data can be read and accessed long into the future, according to a survey by data experts Crown Records Management.

As technology advances at an ever-faster rate, the prospect of previously popular formats becoming obsolete is growing all the time.

Already files produced in Word Perfect or Lotus 123, movie clips and photographs stored in the .MOV format and information stored on floppy disks are in real danger of becoming unreadable in the near future.

Now a survey commissioned by Crown Records Management and undertaken by Censuswide has unveiled the real size of the problem and showed that the pharmaceutical industry is further ahead than most.

The survey showed that

  • 73% of businesses in the sector regularly upgrade servers — the best result across all sectors
  • half regularly review formats on which data is stored to ensure it can be read in future – only the legal sector produced a better result
  • just 12% of pharmaceutical businesses do not have a system in place to preserve electronic data stored for 5 years or more – by comparison the figure in the retail and banking sectors was 21%
  • 100% said it was vital to keep data readable for at least 5 years.

Dominic Johnstone, Head of Information Management Services, at Crown Records Management, said: “These results provide a real insight into what is a compelling topic for all businesses now and in the near future. Long-term digital preservation hasn’t made big headlines so far but many companies may be in for a shock because the reality is that any information which is 10 years old or more is seriously at risk.”

“The speed at which software and hardware evolves is forcing old formats to quickly become obsolete and there is no guarantee they will be readable in future. It’s good to see the pharmaceutical sector has woken up to this issue.”

“You would expect that to be the case given the importance of data in this field and the strict legal guidelines on how long that information has to be kept. Our survey, for instance, showed compliance, at 89%, was the biggest concern for businesses in the sector.”

Johnstone is aware that many businesses simply store their information in the cloud in the belief it is safe; but, they frequently don’t consider how, or if, it will be read in 10 or 20 years’ time. And he did sound one word of warning for the pharmaceutical industry.

He said: “Although the results of the survey are encouraging and certainly better than average, the fact that 12% of pharma businesses do not have a system in place to preserve electronic data stored for more than 5 years is a concern. The figure in the facilities management industry, for instance, was 0%. There is still work to do.”