When computers fail (USA Today article)

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-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), December 07, 1999


Linky no worky....

-- Lurker (eye@spy.net), December 07, 1999.

[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

12/07/99- Updated 10:34 AM ET

When computers fail

Forget Y2K: Everyday glitches cost companies $100B a year

By Gary Strauss, USA TODAY

While many companies continue wrangling with the Y2K computer bug as the new year looms, scores are more fixated on ongoing glitches that could chill holiday cheer by curtailing shipments, frustrating customers and crimping fourth-quarter earnings.

From soap makers to stock exchanges, non-Y2K glitches are cutting a wide swath of mischief in corporate offices, schools and government agencies from Washington, D.C., to Washington state. The glitches are creating delays, outages, garbled data and general snafus, proving Murphy's Law that anything that can go wrong probably will.

Clearly, technology provides incalculable productivity and efficiency gains. But industry experts contend that commonplace glitch costs are staggering: up to $100 billion annually in lost productivity.

"If I walk into a large American corporation and ask the chief information officer how long it's been since there's been a major screw up in their computer systems, they look at their watches, not the calendar," says Peter de Jager, a technology consultant who was among the first to warn the masses about Y2K glitches in "Doomsday 2000," his 1993 report in Computer World magazine.

Almost daily, glitch woes are becoming more pervasive and troublesome. Candy giant Hershey Foods experienced delays that disrupted Halloween shipments. Stock trading on the tech-reliant Nasdaq exchange was disrupted Nov. 16 for nearly 20 minutes near the market's close, typically the busiest trading time. Earlier last month, hundreds of flights across the USA were delayed by a glitch at a Memphis air traffic control center. Thousands of Denver-area residents have been omitted from the new local telephone directory because a computer system's memory was overwhelmed. And for several months, residents of nearly a dozen states haven't received child custodial checks or cash stipends.

While the bulk of glitches are largely unreported and solved internally , many aren't. "You may never hear about it, but this is the way of the world," de Jager says.

Technology's underbelly

Luddites and technophobes might relish technology's vulnerable underbelly. But even they can't completely avoid glitch fallout.

As global competition and e-commerce ramp up and demand faster, more complex platforms and interconnected systems, a minor hiccup can cause a disruptive domino effect far downstream from the source.

So who, or what, is to blame? Computer error. Human error. Malfunctioning software or overly complex marriages of software, hardware and networking equipment. Systems launched too quickly to be bug-proof. Systems that are like too many appliances connected to an overloaded electrical outlet, prone to short circuit. Executives too naove to challenge outside consultants or in-house specialists about products or potentially troubling scenarios, experts say.

"The typical big computer systems that companies use are constantly being changed. Over the course of changing, they're more difficult to understand, so it's easier to change things without understanding the ramifications on the system," says Jim Woodward, senior vice president for tech consultant Cap Gemini Group. "Sometimes you have to test a whole system. But that's expensive. Setting up a good test for Y2K, for example, can cost millions. So few companies make investments to solve potential problems."

Among the recently glitched:

Nasdaq. Fond of billing itself as the stock market for the next 100 years, Nasdaq entered the Dark Ages last month after computerized trade reporting and quotation systems crashed near the close of a busy trading day. The same week, Sweden's stock exchange had to close for a tech troubles that disrupted currency exchange rate monitoring.

Intel. The semiconductor giant said Thursday that some computers equipped with its Coppermine Pentium III microprocessors come with a glitch that prevents users from "booting up." Dell Computer halted shipments of a popular corporate desktop PC that runs the chip to conduct testing.

Hershey Foods. A $115 million computer system designed to augment supply and inventory efficiencies came online in September, three months later than planned. System glitches crippled shipments during the critical Halloween shopping season, forcing retailers and distributors to order from rivals. Hershey blamed the glitches for a 12% decrease in third-quarter sales and a 19% drop in net income from third-quarter 1998.

In Hershey's case, engineers brought too much of the complex system up too quickly, then failed to adequately test it, analysts say.

'Things pop up'

The need for speed to gain a competitive edge contributes to glitches that hurt Hershey, says Mark Margevicius, senior research analyst with technology consultant GartnerGroup.

"The rate of change in the complexities of software is huge," Margevicius says. "It's like building a city. You can't plan and forecast every detail as you go along. After you start, things are forgotten, things aren't always tested. Things pop up. They always do."

Pentagon. A $100 million effort to computerize security investigations has been a massive failure, causing a backlog of more than 600,000 employees awaiting security clearance.

W.L. Gore. The maker of Gore-Tex fabrics remains troubled by a three- year-old system designed to link payroll, personnel and other departments. Gore recently filed suit against software provider PeopleSoft and Deloitte & Touche, the consultant that implemented the $3.5 million system, contending that the consultants who initially tested the software were inexperienced and poorly trained. After the team put fictional employee names into Gore's database, they couldn't remove them. Gore subsequently had Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse logged on the payroll.

"There were quite a few errors that should have been caught and cleaned up through testing," says Judy Brown-Love, one of several outside consultants who spent months deglitching problems and later was hired full-time by Delaware-based Gore. "Occasionally, we still find problems."

Debugging the system is believed to have cost W.L. Gore about $1 million.

Procter & Gamble. A database system designed to streamline production and improve global inventory management as part of the consumer product giant's $2 billion reorganization efforts has provided flawed data and sluggish retrieval requests since an August rollout. Officially, P&G says the problems were minor. Unofficially, some business unit managers in 140 countries where the system is used were incensed that they weren't able to slice and dice data on inventory, production and sales.

"Upper management thinks these systems go in smoothly. They don't. They can't. You can't get it right the first time," de Jager says. "There's this mystique that these systems are managed and built by the most qualified pros on the planet. But most are just regular Joes who aren't measured for any standards about what they know," he says. "If you can program your Nintendo and can do a good selling job, you're a hot commodity. "

Whirlpool. Shipments of appliances have been delayed because of software glitches since a September installation, disrupting domestic and overseas deliveries. Whirlpool declined comment.

Software is inherently unreliable and prone to failure, says Paul Strassmann, publisher of Information Economics Press and former chief information officer for Xerox and the Defense Department.

"There's always been failure, except now, it's on a much bigger scale," he says.

Halifax. Britain's largest mortgage bank's new Internet service was taken off line last week to repair glitches in a recent system upgrade that allowed customers to see and use other customers' accounts.

State agencies. A math logic problem in the computer that doles out annual Alaska Permanent Fund checks to residents has left up to 3,000 state residents without this year's $1,769 payout. Glitches and delays have added almost $100 million to a Nevada computer system -- initially priced at $22.6 million -- that's designed to process custodial payment checks to single-parent families. Similar, albeit less expensive, glitches have delayed child support payments in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, California, Texas, Michigan and Ohio.

While glitches may be bad now, they are apt to become more prevalent and damaging. Pent-up demand to upgrade technology is expected to boost tech-related expenses sharply after the Y2K millennium threat subsides, according to consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"This stuff is becoming more critical to big business, yet some of it is built like Lego sets and Tinker toys," industry consultant Howard Rubin says. "It's not built for rigorous engineering, and people aren't properly trained to use it. As things get more complex, we'll be prone to more errors."


-- Linkmeister (link@librarian.edu), December 07, 1999.

This has always been a key part of Hoffy's argument, that computers always fail and that we are seeing still more failures in 1999 WITHOUT a major problem. Well, the first part of the statement is certainly no surprise to me, Ed, Cory, a, sysman or others on this board!

100B sound about right and, compared to what technology "gives us", a small penalty.

Let's hope we don't see that go to 1T soon ....

-- BigDog (BigDog@duffer.com), December 07, 1999.


I thought everything was OK. Jan 1st was going to be a "non-event".

You shouldn't post articles like this. You're gonna confuse the pollies.

Pollies: "Don't pay any attention to this mean ol' article. Just put your blinders back on, kick back in your lazy boy and keep watching the .gov controlled news. Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta go to Sam's Club and pick up a couple of things."

-- Familyman (prepare@home.com), December 07, 1999.

"Non-y2k glitches". Hershey's, Whirlpool...

-- StanTheMan (heidrich@presys.com), December 07, 1999.

Geeeee - Almost like they're trying to soften the blow ....

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Marietta, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), December 07, 1999.

Interesting thought of what was omitted in this story. I read it at work and explained to a coworker that the reason the named companies were replacing their computers and getting into these messes, was that they were fixing their Y2K problems and the results were better than what Y2K would do to them without the new computers.

Too bad deJager didn't bother to make such an observation.


-- Wildweasel (vtmldm@epix.net), December 07, 1999.

Now this is more like it! No mass panic, just the facts. Maybe follow up with recommendations would be nice, but perhaps too much to ask for all at once.

-- Hokie (nn@va.com), December 07, 1999.

Check out Hunter Douglas Industries. They are the largest window blind manufacturer in the world. Last fall they implemented a new international computer system. As of June 1999 (per my sales representative)they were only 10% operational. The reason I had asked what was going on was that I had not received an invoice for 6 months from them. Quite a company that can go 6 months without invoicing their customers. They are slowing getting up - but have a long way to go. Everyone in my industry that I talk with agree that Hunter has a lot of problems.

-- Mary Gasnik (marycds@ionet.net), December 08, 1999.



Wednesday December 8 2:11 AM ET

Cures for Y2K Could Destabilize Computers

By Neil Winton

LONDON (Reuters) - Some cures for the millennium computer bug might do more harm than good.

With just about every big company in the world spending millions of dollars on new equipment to thwart the bug, experts are worrying that Y2K solutions themselves might actually lead to crippling computer crashes.

Ironically, companies which are dutifully protecting their businesses from the bug, are unwittingly exposing them to problems induced by new systems.

It is a truism in the information technology business that new projects are always late and over budget. It often takes weeks, sometimes months, to shake down new computers and make sure they provide the functions promised.

``One of the major (millennium computer bug) problems is the need to change IT systems, a challenge at the best of times that often run over budget and over time. Introducing new systems in a limited time- frame introduces all sorts of new problems,'' said the Y2K pressure group Taskforce 2000.

Spending to cure the millennium computer bug has been huge.

The U.S. information technology research company Gartner Group has said companies around the world would have to spend between $300 billion and $600 billion to fix the problem. IDC, another U.S. high technology consultancy, estimated in a report last month that by the end of 1999, companies will have spent $250 billion finding, replacing, rewriting, testing and documenting computer code infected by the bug.

And all because programmers in the 1980s used two digits to record dates on software, knowing that this could trip over the two zeros in 2000 and cause computers to crash or spew out corrupt data.

Cluster Of Crashes Points To Problem

There has already been a rash of computer systems crashes which have damaged businesses.

Earlier this year the food distributor International Multifoods of Chicago saw its business disrupted when it installed a new Y2K-ready computer system. It failed to gel with the company's traditional order system and crippled business for weeks.

In Britain, the china and crystal glass maker Royal Doulton said it lost between 10 million and 12 million pounds ($16.25 million to $19.50 million) in sales following the failure of its new warehouse management software installed to ready the company for the millennium bug. The new software was unable to handle orders for sets of five plates for the U.S. market and recognized only orders for single items.

The U.S. confectioner Hershey Foods saw its traditional Halloween business trashed when its new computer using software from SAP AG and Siebel Systems disrupted its supply system.

Experts also point to computer crashes at Whirlpool Corp, Allied Waste Industries, and Waste Management Inc. Procter & Gamble Co, giant maker of Tide detergent, Crest toothpaste and Pampers diapers, said last month it had problems with its the global database system called SourceOne.

Systems Crashes Induced By Analysis Failure

Peter Barnes, general manager of Survive! International, said information technology problems are often triggered by a failure to correctly analyze system requirements.

``Where the same failures have been applied to Y2K remediation or avoidance projects, the impact of failure is likely to be greater particularly where a company believes it has built an effective replacement for a non-compliant system but finds that the new system fails,'' Barnes said.

Survive! is an independent international user group for business which advises on preparing for problems from unforeseen disasters such as computer failure, the loss of key personnel and infrastructure from fires, floods and terrorist attacks.

Mitul Mehta, Senior European Research Manager at technology consultant Frost & Sullivan, said that many businesses which are spending large sums on anti-Y2K repairs are also deciding to upgrade their computers generally at the same time.

``That's where I see problems. They're saying we might as well put in e-commerce and web-based supply chain offerings, data warehousing and business intelligence etcetera,'' Mehta said.

``This means exposing systems to a whole set of applications and whole new way of doing things.''

Mehta believes that this behavior is typical at medium to large companies in the retail, information technology and telecommunications businesses.

Some Experts Expect Smooth Transition

Fons Kuijpers of the PA Consulting Group is much more sanguine about the problem.

Most companies have completed Y2K remediation work with plenty of time to spare, according to Kuijpers.

``I personally don't think there's going to be a massive problem,'' Kuijpers said.

Does he believe the much-hyped millennium bug problem is more of a damp squib than potential disaster?

``I think that's a fair assessment. There will be mishaps but they will be fairly minor, not as disastrous as people were predicting when the problem first emerged. Companies have though found significant problems which undetected and unfixed would have impacted on operations in a significant manner,'' Kuijpers said.

Tim Johnson, consultant at the technology researcher Ovum, is also on the sunny side of the issue.

``We have seen companies trying to install new systems rather rapidly -- Hershey was one even though it was not directly Y2K related. They've been trying to install systems too quickly and had serious problems,'' said Johnson.

``The evidence is that this is a manageable bit of aggravation in the developed world. There's a good bet that something nasty will happen somewhere; more likely in the developing rather than developed world,'' Johnson said.

($1-.6155 Pound)

-- (news@worthy.item), December 09, 1999.

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