This past week saw an uptick in the number of IT-related malfunctions, mishaps and mayhem in comparison to the previous few weeks. We start off with a lesson from Irish Rail on how not to endear yourself with your passengers when fixing a software problem.
Irish Rail Gives Scant Warning to Passengers for Belated Billing on Uncharged Trips
Last Friday, Irish Rail announced in a press release on its website that a March 2013 software upgrade to its Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) didn’t work as planned, resulting in tickets being issued and payments being authorized against payment cards. But unfortunately for the transit authority, the payments weren’t actually deducted from passenger accounts. Over 9000 individual payment cards were affected by the error, nearly all attached to Maestro Debit cards, Irish Rail said. The incomplete transactions occurred for train tickets purchased between 28 March and 31 May 2013 and came to about €331 000 (US $438 000) in uncollected fares.
Irish Rail also announced in its press release that I am sure all of its riders read on a daily basis that, beginning today, it would begin to collect the monies owed it. There’s nothing like giving your customers a lot of advanced notice.
Naturally, Irish Rail’s decision did not sit well with many of those affected customers, with the spokesperson of Rail Users Ireland logically asking why Irish Rail couldn’t have waited a week at least to allow customers some time to hear about the news, and also let customers ensure that they had enough money in their bank accounts to cover the charges so that they wouldn't become inadvertently overdrawn.
Irish Rail said that it recognized “that processing cumulative payments at one time may cause difficulties for some customers,” and so it set up a somewhat convoluted payment scheme to reduce the pain. However, the railroad also admits that 60 to 70 percent of those owing money will see charges to their bank accounts beginning today.
Irish Rail added in its press release, “We apologies [sic] for any inconvenience this fault causes customers.”
Let’s hope that Irish Rail’s augmented reality app released today doesn’t have similar software issues.
NYSE Euronext Suffered Trading “Technical Issue”
On Thursday, Bloomberg News reported that a technical “glitch” delayed trading for an hour on the exchanges that NYSE Euronext operates in Paris, Brussels, Lisbon, and Amsterdam. Bloomberg stated that the problem “affected stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds, warrants, and certificates on Euronext’s cash markets and some trading in derivatives.”
Euronext issued a press release (pdf) that stated, “Investigations identified an issue that prevented customers from submitting orders to the market via the Common Customer Gateway (‘CCG’), despite being able to connect to the CCGs correctly. The resolution of the issue required the CCGs to be shut down and then re-started.” However, Euronext has yet to disclose what caused the “issue” to occur in the first place.
This latest glitch will no doubt provide fodder for Nasdaq in its competitive battle with its rival for new European and US business. There was an interesting story in today’s Wall Street Journal on how each of the two largest exchanges in the U.S. is using the other's software and system glitches as marketing weapons to convince corporations—especially those in the tech industry—that its exchange is more reliable, and therefore, the better place to list their shares.
The Journal states that while “accentuating the negative is a common marketing tactic … technology problems rarely are the deciding factor for a company about where to list their shares, say executives, bankers and industry participants.”
That said, I doubt that is going to stop either exchange from continuing the practice, especially while trading snafus regularly occur at each exchange.
Scoot Airline’s Virtual Flight Contest Hits Rough Air
Singapore Airline’s no-frills airline subsidiary Scoot decided to celebrate its one-year anniversary last week by running—what else—a contest. Called the “World’s Longest Virtual Flight,” the contest offered “one lucky contestant… S$20,000 in cash, with a further S$30,000 in travel vouchers.” To enter, contestants had to download a special app to “board the flight.” Once "airborne," a contestant had to tap a button on his or her mobile phone every 60 seconds. The last person left tapping would be declared the winner of the contest.
Scoot’s press release added the word, “initially” after the 60 seconds, indicating that it might change the interval if too many contestants were hanging on for too long. That turned out not to be a problem.
According to a story at the Singapore Straits Times, over 7000 contestants logged into Tuesday's contest. However, when it was time” to board” the airplane at 8:00pm local time, many contestants found that they were denied access to the plane. Others who were able to "board,” were soon dropped from the flight just before “take off.”
The technical issues forced Scoot's management to delay the takeoff until 9:00 p.m., then to 9:15 p.m., and finally to 9:30 p.m., when the flight finally “took off,” but with only 2,000 people aboard.
Scoot’s Facebook page was soon filled with angry messages from those “passengers” left behind, and from passengers aboard the flight who found themselves parachuted off because of continuing connectivity difficulties.
The airline had even set up a movie marathon at a Singapore movie theater so some 200 contestants could pass the "flight" in relative comfort. When the technical difficulties occurred, and many contestants in attendance found out they couldn’t take part in the contest, Scoot representatives decided to offer them, as consolation, tickets to theater events in Sydney, Australia—a travel destination some 8 hours flying time away—but no real plane tickets. Talk about pouring salt into an open wound. It almost makes Irish Rail look like the model of good corporate behavior.
Scoot said that the problems were traced to a “server load balancing hardware failure” and once the airlines is sure it can accommodate the demand, it plans to contact the 5000 or so contestants left behind and offer them another virtual flight for the same contest prizes.
The eventual winner, Mohammed Firdaus Ismani, 29, tapped away for 18 hours. I wonder whether his fingers were sore.
Also of interest …
Photo: Barry Mason/Alamy
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.