Unexpected changes in IT systems are one of the biggest risks to business performance, according to a survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"The key findings from the study show that the majority of business disruptions are linked to IT changes," said David Gee, vice president of marketing for HP Software, which sponsored the survey.

HP revealed the results of the survey while hosting its Technology Forum & Expo and Software Universe conferences, where it also unveiled products designed to automate change management and expedite problem detection across IT systems.

The survey showed that the more unchecked changes IT environments incur, the more likely an outage or security breach will impact the business. Yet a majority of IT professionals polled continue to rely on manual efforts to track changes across large, distributed environments.

"The data clearly show that predictability is an issue for many IT organisations. Given that IT and business risk are so tightly linked, a lack of predictability for IT equates into a lack of predictability for the business," said Clint Witchalls, senior editor, Economist Intelligence Unit, which conducted the survey of 1,125 IT professionals.

For instance, one out of four respondents said that 50 per cent of their outages were caused by change. More than two-thirds of those surveyed said process standardisation has made the IT organisation's outcomes more predictable, and IT professionals polled identified Six Sigma and ITIL as the most common frameworks used for process standardisation.

Eighty per cent of respondents said they believed automating IT functions frees up time and budget for innovation, while 72 per cent said automation of IT change management makes results more repeatable.

Nevertheless, 68 per cent reported they still use manual methods for tasks such as identifying application security issues, and 28 per cent of respondents described their application security process as mature with formal policies and tools in place to manage security from development through operations.

The survey also shows that a majority of companies - three out of four polled - couple their organisation's enterprise risk management with IT risk management, which indicates business will suffer when IT experiences an outage. Yet if IT change is appropriately managed, the business could see less of an impact when problems arise, EUI says.

"Companies that can manage these issues properly will have a distinct competitive advantage," Witchalls said.