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Sainsbury's Good IT News

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As I wrote about here, in October 2005, the giant British food retailer J Sainsbury PLC had to write off its US $526 million investment in an automated supply-chain management system. Merchandise had become stuck in the company's depots and warehouses and was not getting through to many of its stores. Sainsbury was forced to hire about 3000 additional clerks to stock its shelves manually.

Sainsbury had outsourced its IT systems in 2000, but after the fiasco, decided to bring the work back in-house. Last week, chief executive Justin King said that the move placed the company on track towards saving £440m in costs a year.

It's nice to hear about good IT news.

Heathrow's Terminal 5 Problems Continue On

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The BBC is reporting that 15,000 â'' 20,000 bags belonging to BA (British Airways) passengers are now stranded across London Heathrowâ''s five terminals because of the on-going problems at Terminal 5. The BBC is reporting that, â''Other carriers bringing passengers into Heathrow, to transfer to BA flights, have been asked by the airline to hold on to their bags while it (BA) clears the existing backlog.â''

BA says it doesnâ''t know how long this will take, although it is privately estimating it may take weeks before Terminal 5 operates â''normally.â''

BA, after initially saying that 15% of its flights would be canceled today, actually had to cancel 20% because of additional unanticipated problems.

BA had promised that all long haul flights would operate normally Saturday, but that also didnâ''t happen as some flights left without passengersâ'' baggage.

Having the flight canceled may have been the wish of passengers on their way to Larnaca who waited on the tarmac for four hours, saw their luggage loaded, and then removed from the plane. They were told that it had not been screened properly. The plane left without its passengers' luggage, which BA said would be sent to Larnarca by the next available flight or air courier.

Another 10% to 15% of flights are expected to be canceled on Sunday.

BA, however, is ever upbeat, with spokespersons saying that â''onlyâ'' 244 flights out of 1320 would be canceled from Thursday to Sunday, and that, "On the whole, the day (Saturday) has gone reasonably well.â''

BA apologized again today to the 24,000 people whose flights were (or are going to be) affected. It also had to apologize to stranded passengers for saying that it would only compensate them £100 for the inconvenience, when European Union regulations state that airlines must provide hotels for all passengers delayed overnight with no maximum cost.

BA may face fines of up to £5,000 per passenger for misleading passengers over compensation rights for delayed or canceled flights.

And to add a bit more salt in the wound, the fiasco forced BA to scrap a multi-million pound advert campaign planned for next week that was going to emphasize how easy it is for travelers to go through Terminal 5 and collect their bags.

I wonder if passengers have started to sing Monty Python's "I'm So Worried" yet.

Hannaford Breach: A Potential Sea Change in Attack Approach

The Boston Globe reports that malware was secretly installed on every one of the 300 or so Hannaford grocery stores' servers. The malware, according to the Globe, "intercepted card data from customers as they paid with plastic at store checkout counters, and sent the data overseas." Over 4.2 million Hannaford customer credit and debit card numbers were stolen, and at least 1,800 fraud cases have so far been reported.

Hannaford is not certain how the malware got installed (although an inside job is suspected), but regardless intercepting data in transit ratchets up the level of sophistication of hacking attacks and the level of danger to customer data.

Hannaford was certified as being Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI) compliant, which means it probably won't have to pay banks and others any breach-related expenses, like the costs of re-issuing credit cards.

It also points out that PCI compliance does not mean total security, either.

Heathrow Terminal 5: A Bit Shambolic

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The problems at BA's (British Airways) London Heathrow's new Terminal 5 continued into today. Trying to stem more problems for occurring, BA canceled 20% of its flights before the day began. It also encouraged passengers to fly only with hand luggage. I guess that is better than what happened yesterday when passengers on a number of flights got off at their destination and only then were told that their luggage hadn't been put on the plane.

The Guardian has a story about the breakdown that happened yesterday - it describes "a catalogue of errors led by serious problems with BA's new baggage sorting regime (that) caused the entire system to collapse within hours." It started with "a lack of staff spaces in a specially-designated car park" for baggage system operators, followed quickly by baggage system operators "unable to log on to the computer system, which caused three flights to 'cut and run' and fly off without bags - creating the first backlog of the day." It degenerated from there.

Other new Terminal 5 IT systems like the one that is supposed to help allocate staff resources to problem areas in an event of a crisis occurring, failed to work as expected as well.

Today, the problems continue, mostly BA said, caused by the "knock-on" effects of yesterday's fiasco. The head of strategy for BAA, the airport operator, claimed that, "We're very comfortable in the performance of the (baggage) system itself ..." but that it was the baggage system operators' fault for the problems that were being experienced. Maybe next time, BAA should create a baggage system that can operate completely without any human intervention. I know, get some robots!

More flights are going to be canceled over the weekend, in hopes of getting over the "teething problems."

BA chief executive Willie Walsh finally figured out that his "things are great" view of yesterday didn't sync with reality. So, Walsh did what all CEOs do, he accepted responsibility without really accepting responsibility. This is what Walsh told the Guardian:

" 'I am accepting responsibility that the buck stops with me. ... It was definitely not our finest hour. Maybe we set our expectations too high. We clearly made mistakes but I am absolutely determined to make this work.' "

When asked whether he would resign, he said, "No, I am not."

Maybe things will be better for passengers by next week, if they can get to the airport. London Underground staff are vowing to go on strike for three days next week which will close down the Tube, and make traveling in the London area a right shambolic mess.

More Peeking at Passports at State Department?

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It is now being reported that other celebrities and politicians have had their passport applications peaked at. For instance, the late Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith, apparently was viewed at least 20 times since January 2007.

However, it is unclear if all accesses were unauthorized.

As a side note, a CNN report in February, well before this passport flap occurred, looked at the practice of not only government employees digging through confidential information, but employees at utilities, telecommunications and accounting companies who snoop through customer data.

The story noted that at one utility, Wisconsin's WE Energies, employees were searching its databases for information on their friends, local celebs, and others. The databases, the story noted, "include credit and banking information, payment histories, Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and energy usage. n some cases, it even includes income and medical information."

The CNN story also noted that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) disciplined 219 employees last year for browsing through confidential taxpayer information; that was more than twice as many as in 2006.

Heathrow Baggage Meltdown Again - At New Terminal 5

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"It is all tried, tested and ready to go," or so said Tom Garside two weeks ago in reference to the new state of art baggage handling system at London Heathrow's new Terminal 5. Garside is the head of systems and integration for BAA, the airport operator, at Terminal 5.

For the last six months, both BAA and BA (British Airways) have been testing the baggage system and both have been supremely confident that it, the other Terminal 5 IT support systems, along with the staff were all up to speed ready to work on Terminal 5's opening day - today.

However, BAA and BA are blaming "technical glitches" and "staff familiarisation" issues for causing "teething problems" which have in turned created baggage delays of up to three hours and the cancellation of at least 34 flights by early this afternoon. In fact, except for the new digs, it sounds like a normal day over at BA's old Terminal 4.

In one reported case, a plane on its way to Los Angeles was still on the tarmac after more than three hours waiting for its luggage to be loaded. Unfortunately, it appears that the baggage system software indicated that the flight had already left. As a result, the bags which were ready to be loaded were returned instead to the terminal - I guess to be sent on other planes going to LA.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh was quoted today as saying "I'm absolutely delighted with the way things have gone so far. I think it's great."

If today was a great day, I really would hate to see what Walsh thinks is a bad day.

Update:

The wait time for luggage reached up to four hours late this afternoon.

In addition, the mounting problems with its baggage system has now forced BA to announce that check-in of all hold luggage would be suspended on Thursday evening. According to BA, "We are experiencing significant disruption to flights departing from Heathrow Terminal 5 due to problems associated with processing customersâ'' hold baggage. As a result, customers due to travel on flights departing Terminal 5 this evening will be able to travel with hand baggage only."

BA went on to say, "We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience this has caused our customers."

No news on whether BA chief executive Willie Walsh still thinks it has been a great opening day.

Those Pesky Medical Records Privacy Requirements

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Earlier this month, ComputerWeekly reported that it found out through a Freedom of Information Act request that the UK National Health Service (NHS) has allowed staff with no professional qualifications to access patient electronic medical records, even though NHS has given repeated official assurances that only specialists who were providing care would have such access.

Doctors, who have not been happy with the NPfIT ability to keep medical records secure, aren't surprised by the news.

All this is of no concern, apparently, to the MP Kevin Baron, chairman of the House Commons Health Committee who is reported as apparently believing that NHS patient confidentiality issues are overblown and are wasting time in creating the NPfIT summary care record database.

Baron also is reported as saying that it was "palpable nonsense" that the UK government will profit by selling millions of NHS patient health records to pharmaceutical and insurance companies and those claim otherwise like the British Medical Association are engaged in "scaremongering."

Baron may "speak" for the current government about whether or not it will "profit" from the NHS electronic medical records, but he sure doesn't speak for future ones. Just as patient confidentiality promises have been made less restrictive, expect this promise to be pitched overboard when it becomes "too restrictive" or "not in the best interests of the NHS" as well.

One merely has to read the UK Academy of Medical Sciences study published in February that describes the legal impediments involved in getting access to the NHS patient data, and the steps the government needs to follow to allow third party "researchers" to get at it.

That Didn't Take Long: Hannaford Sued Over Data Breach

Lawyers are suing Hannaford Brothers supermarket chain for the data breach announced last week that that exposed 4.2 million credit and debit card numbers, as well as led to at least 1,800 fraud cases.

In a story in ComputerWorld, Philadelphia law firm Berger & Montague PC and attorney Samuel Lanham Jr. in Maine (so far) have filed class-action against the supermarket which is based in Scarborough, Maine. The story says that,"The class-action suit charges the company with negligence and breach of implied contract and seeks to recover any damages that might be caused to consumers as a result of the breach."

Hannaford can also expect requests for payments from financial institutions who have also been affected by the data breach, for example, any which has had to reissue credit cards to their customers.

Manipulating the London Stock Market for Fun & Profit

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In the wake of the investment bank Bears Stearns' rapid meltdown, investors have been very worried about which bank may be next. This has created a perfect environment to play on those worries to cause havoc from which to profit by.

As you may recall, Bear Stearns denied rumors that there were any problems with its holdings and blamed its falling share price on unfounded speculation, all the way up until the day it was sold for a pittance.

So when rumors surfaced via e-mails to traders last Wednesday that HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland), Britain's largest mortgage lender, was in deep trouble, investors ran for the exits. At least one short seller supposedly made £100 million as HBOS stock fell 17%.

However, the rumor was deliberately planted, and now the authorities are trying to find out who started it. Few think they will be successful.

There is a detailed story in the London Telegraph about how at least one London-based hedge fund has been trying to manipulate the market in just this way. Undoubtedly, it isn't the only one, nor will this be the last time something like this occurs given the current market nervousness.

Possibly Coming to a Phone Near You

Nokia announced last week the winners of its annual, â''Mobile Rules!â'' competition, which gives awards to "innovative mobile business plans and cutting-edge applications, services and technologies from developers and entrepreneurs" from around the world.

The idea, as I understand it, is to encourage mainstream and entrepreneurial companies alike to come up with new applications for mobile phones. In Nokia's press release, Tom Libretto, Vice President, Forum Nokia is quoted as saying, â''Open platforms and the millions of smart phone devices available today are helping enable this new wave of entrepreneurs from around the globe to become drivers of the future global mobile marketplace through the innovative technologies, applications and business models they create today.â''

Distilling that marketing statement into something more understandable, what Nokia is saying is that: "Mobile phone customers are becoming smarter and more agile than we are in developing new applications and innovative uses of our phones. In fact, we have lost control of the direction of the market, so let's just sit back, help enable it and see where it takes us. If we provide smart phones with lots of capabilities, nice tools and open architectures for our customers to play with, our customers will create neat things that will likely make them (and others) buy our phones in the future."

The upside for Nokia for running the contest is to not only encourage this innovation, but to get a good look at what more innovative customers are doing with mobile phone technology. If what is created looks profitable, then Nokia is in a perfect position to enter collaborative deals with them.

There are some interesting ideas among the winners. Because of my interest in medical technology, I am a bit partial to the winner of the best business plan, MedApps, and the mobile wireless health monitoring system they are developing.

You can check out who all the winners are here.

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Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

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Willie D. Jones
 
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