24 October 2008 | Jake Kanter
More than three-quarters of buyers believe the risk of suppliers losing important data is growing and tighter controls are required.
According to the latest SM100 poll, 84 per cent say advances in technology have made data loss more of a threat than it was 10 years ago.
Most agreed that information storage systems such as CDs and memory sticks are more vulnerable to being lost or stolen.
The result follows a number of examples of data loss in the public and private sector.
Last week Vodafone's pension scheme records were stolen from accountants Deloitte, and earlier this month supplier EDS lost a memory stick containing confidential information on army recruits. In August the Home Office ended a contract with PA Consulting after data on prisoners went missing (see 'Home Office and PA Consulting').
"Data loss is a huge threat, simply because 50 years ago, if you wanted to steal 25 million personal records you would have needed a forklift, several attics and a warehouse to store all your stolen records. Now you can walk around with all that information on two compact discs," said Guy Allen, director sourcing and supply services at Fujitsu.
Caroline Wood, procurement team leader at Buckinghamshire County Council agreed, adding that changing working practices also contributed to the risk of information being stolen. She said: "Advances in technology enable data to be more easily transported from one source to another. Memory sticks are small and easy to lose.
"In addition, more employers allow staff to work flexibly by providing them with laptops and blackberries."
Buyers felt suppliers should only be able to access limited amounts of information within contractually agreed terms. They agreed there should be tighter controls on exchanging information.
"We don't let suppliers see confidential information unless it is appropriate to the contract. Where they process data on our behalf under a contract we impose strict data protection conditions," said Karen Wontner, purchasing manager at Cardiff University. "Data loss can only be prevented by tightening up systems for storing, copying and disposing of confidential data."
Nick Harriers, director of sourcing and procurement at Interpublic Group, believes the electronic age has challenged the profession to find ways of transferring information that is accessible to suppliers, but also secure.
"Until this is achieved, data loss will continue to be a threat," he added.