Sunoco and FedEx Suffer "Back to the Future" Computer Problems

There were reports late yesterday that two large US companies - Sunoco and FedEx - suffered major computer glitches through Monday.

According to this updated story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sunoco, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania headquartered independent oil-refiner, saw its retail credit/debit-card system crash for about three hours yesterday. From 1615 to 1945 EST, all 4,900 Sunoco-owned convenience stores could only accept cash for gasoline and other sundry items. ATM's inside the stores that also used the credit card network were apparently not working either. Independently-operated Sunoco gas and convenience stores were not affected.

Sunoco has gas stations with convenience stories operating in Maine to Florida, and eastward to Indiana. The Tribune-Review story also says that:

"Sunoco is the sole provider of fuel along the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware turnpikes as well as the Atlantic City Expressway. It is one of the companies that provide services along the Gov. Thomas E. Dewey Thruway in New York."

The Times-Review also reported that the company does about 49% of its retail business via credit/debit cards. No reason for the crash has been given as of yet.

FedEx, also suffered a system-wide computer problem yesterday, this time affecting its own personnel rather than customers.

According to this story in ComputerWorld, a "bad software download" on Sunday to the PowerPad devices carried by FedEx personnel across the US forced them  to input "...  package information by hand and getting handwritten signatures instead of doing this all electronically."

This no doubt slowed package delivery - which is highly coordinated - by more than a little bit.

A FedEx spokesperson told ComputerWorld that a wrong version of the PowerPad software had been "inadvertently" downloaded. The spokesperson would not say how many PowerPads were affected.

The PowerPads were rolled out about 10 years ago, and this 2002 article at Forbes stated that FedEx expected to use 40,000 of the devices then. A 2005 FedEx press release states that some 50,000 of the devices were deployed globally. This makes me wonder if the "bad download" affected only US FedEx workers, or FedEx workers across all the some 60 countries the company operates in. 

The FedEx spokesperson told ComputerWorld that the PowerPads have had very little downtime.

Update: A story this afternoon at Network World reports that the PowerPads have been fixed. However, FedEx stated that it would take until at least noon EST Tuesday for all the tracking information to be uploaded into its systems.

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