Tuesday, September 06, 2016

System Failure

The news has been awash with  the story of British Airways' Check-in System Failure.
The Gorse Fox has some thoughts on this.

Firstly, he does not know a thing about the actual system or the cause of its failure. He has, however, been the engineer on point when things like this have happened. He can only imagine the current chaos in the IT maintenance team.

The problem has probably be caused by some change being implemented badly or some database being corrupted. The maintenance team will have to pick up the pieces.

There will be Execs and Middle Managers and Managers camped out in the department or on the phones. They won’t know a thing about the system but will be demanding solutions in timescales that cannot even be estimated until the team has got to the root cause. The team, meanwhile, will be trying to find out what happened and are being interrupted very few minutes for an update.  (The Gorse Fox used to assign his colleague Dave Donachie to run interference in such cases - he would answer the only phone that wasn't off-the-hook, and would guard the locked door, ensuring no entry by anyone that could not genuinely contribute to the solution - however important or senior they thought they were)

Eventually the source of the problem will come to light and remedial action will be planned. Some of this will be dependent on the skill of the maintenance team, some of it will be dependent on the laws of physics. (A database that takes 8 hours to restore will not go any faster because an Exec shouts at it).

Meanwhile the IT Department is (probably) trying to outsource as much of its work as possible to low cost providers around the world and expects them to implement everything in ridiculous timescales. The company starts to depend on software developed by the lowest cost providers in the shortest time (and that's a recipe for quality, right?).

The loyal people with real experience, who understand the systems and how they work were long since put out to pasture (because accountants thought they cost too much money).

The Gorse Fox has this theory that in the life-cycle of a company there comes a time when the push for profits allows accountants to get too close to the boardroom. This is the start of the company's decline and eventual demise. Yes, companies need to manage cash flow and seek profits - but they also need to build a work force that genuinely cares for the company and understands how it works. A workforce that has loyalty to a company that shows them loyalty will achieve miracles.

Accountants in the boardroom are the very antithesis of that.

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