For years it was the habit of the controller of $7-million McGinnis Farms, an Alpharetta, Ga., landscaping-supply wholesaler, to make a copy of the company's entire computerized records and take the data home every night. Just a bean counter's overcaution, of course -- until a tornado weed-whacked the offices into mulch.

When its not-backed-up 10,000-customer database was recently Osterized by a computer malfunction, the staff at Goodman Music, in Los Angeles, picked through the garbled code and managed to reconstruct the files. It took nearly three weeks.

Those companies survived; others may not. Destroyed data costs businesses some $4 billion a year, says a recent study commissioned by 3M. Yet formal backup policies are the exception, not the rule. (See chart, "Data Backup: Why They Started," February 1993, [Article link].) Less than a third of the companies surveyed had such a policy. Ironically, in businesses with fewer than 10 employees, where wiped-out data could wipe out the business, formal backup was rarest, with only 18% having a policy.

Given prominent scares from hurricanes and viruses, aren't more companies practicing safe storage? No, frets 3M's Michael Stevens. "Our study shows surprisingly little improvement over the past five years, even though PCs have become repositories of absolutely vital corporate assets."

The pivotal rule: Put someone in control. "There simply won't be a commitment to a backup policy unless you designate a responsible individual," Stevens says. For descriptions of backup systems and alternative techniques, call for 3M's free 32-page Data Security Handbook (800-328-9438).

-- Researched by Vera Gibbons

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