This must be one of my favorite topics to write about since this is the third time I am writing about it and the fourth time it has appeared in either an IDC Link or blog post. The topic is public-facing IT problems. The most recent of which hit United Airlines in the US. According to the New York Times, United has resumed flights after a five-hour computer failure. The Times reported that the problem was with the reservations and airport processing systems. While I have never worked in the airline industry, I would guess that the reservations systems would fall into the category of mission critical and this represents another failure of a mission-critical system. So far I have written about these types of failures for J Crew (Web site crashed during the Obama Inauguration in 2009), Chase (Retail and SMB customers were unable to access their accounts through the online banking system), and, in case you are thinking this is a US only problem, Commonwealth bank in Australia (ATM system was dispensing free money).
Now, I understand that IT systems are becoming more complicated and glitches will happen. However, my point is not the systems, but rather how they are supported. In many cases, I see customers spending freely on the deployment of new technology only to skimp on the on-going support for these systems. Somehow the on-going support and maintenance is not considered to be as critical or interesting as the deployment of new technology and there is a thought that the latest new technology will solve the problem and will eliminate the need for support and maintenance. So far this has proved to be false. Further, I suspect that I will continue to write these articles as it will continue to be false.
So, my advice to the IT managers who are responsible for these systems, do not skimp on the maintenance or support. Deploying new technology can dramatically improve operational efficiency, result in revenue growth, and reduce internal costs. However, all of these gains can be quickly wiped out if the systems are not properly supported. Now a plan for support can come in many forms. It can involve using a vendor's support services or an internal plan. Regardless of the form of the plan, it must cover the entire system - which will likely include IT assets from multiple vendors. As IT becomes more complex, simply looking at a single IT asset is not sufficient. Supporting a system involves supporting the entire business process. In United's case, this would have been the reservations system.
Regardless, stay tuned for the next time I write this article.