The Staggering Impact of IT Systems Gone Wrong

Explore the many ways in which IT failures have squandered money, wasted time, and generally disrupted people’s lives

The world has relied on large-scale IT systems for decades, but we still haven’t learned how to prevent and avoid major glitches and failures. Here at IEEE Spectrum, we’ve been writing about such failures for 10 years (first in the oft-cited article “Why Software Fails,” and later in the Risk Factor blog).

Now we’re taking a step back to look at the bigger picture. We’ve scoured our archives to create a rogues’ gallery of the most notable, interesting, and emblematic failures from the past decade. We’ve included a diverse assortment of failures, which means there’s no single metric for measuring their impact. Some, like failed IT system upgrades or modernization projects, have straightforward financial consequences. Others, like operational outages and disruptions, are better measured by the time wasted and the number of people affected.

Keep in mind that the failures below are just the tip of the iceberg. They’re just a tiny fraction of the hundreds of incidents weve covered in Risk Factor, and an even smaller fraction of the global total. A complete list would be several orders of magnitude larger.