There was wide variety of IT-related snafus, glitches and uffdas this past week. We start off with an oldie but goodie: another IT glitch at the Royal Bank of Scotland and its subsidiaries.
Hardware Fault Affects Customers of Royal Bank of Scotland Group
Last summer, you may recall, a software update that went awry took out the IT systems supporting the Royal Bank of Scotland and its subsidiaries, NatWest and the Bank of Ulster, for quite some time; in the case of Ulster Bank, nearly two months went by before its IT systems were finally stabilized and customers had unfettered access to all their accounts. Needless to say, RBS Group customers were not amused by the long “disruption and inconvenience” as RBS Group chairman Stephen Hester called it. RBS promised its customers as well as the government that it would take steps improve the reliability of its Banking systems. Some £175 million (US $263 million) was eventually spent on customer compensation and system improvements.
Well, RBS Group managed once more to inconvenience its customers, which number 17.5 million, last Wednesday evening when a “hardware fault” disrupted access to all customer accounts. According to various news outlets such as the Financial Times,all three banks’ customers could not access ATMs, use RBS Group issued credit cards, or access any online or telephone banking services. Some customers, the BBC reported, alleged that the ATM machines ate their banking cards as well.
RBS claimed that the hardware error—which it says was not related to the 2012 event—was fixed within about three hours, although some customers were still complaining of problems with accessing their bank accounts well into Thursday morning. RBS, which is getting very practiced at it, issued an apology Thursday morning “for the disruption our customers experienced” and promised to help customers who faced any problems because of the outage.
The apology hardly mollified RBS Group customers, especially when, in a bit of bad timing, it was disclosed on Thursday morning that RBS Chairman Hester would be receiving a bonus worth £700,000. Many customers were angrily asking, “For what?”
Three States Experience DMV Issues
Last week, the Motor Vehicles Departments in Georgia, Texas, and Kansas all reported having IT problems.
A computer problem last Monday morning closed all of Georgia’s DMV offices from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. EST. However, around noon, a printer problem occurred which again affected all of the state’s DMV offices. TV station WAGA FOX 5 in Atlanta reported that the issue wasn't cleared up until about 2 p.m. Long customer lines were reported due to the problems.
Texas' DMV-related problems, which began on Monday and lasted into Wednesday, related to titling and registering cars, the Dallas Morning News reported. A Texas DMV spokesperson did not state exactly what caused the problems, but he did point at the 1980’s-vintage DMV legacy mainframe system that he said was in desperate need of modernization. The state might ask Kansans how well modernization is working out for them.
Once more, the long-suffering citizens of Kansas experienced IT headaches with their “modernized” DMV system, starting on Friday, 1 March and lasting into Tuesday, 5 March. The Wichita Eagle reported that a “software programming” problem meant that DMV customers were waiting up to 4 hours to get or renew their car titles/registrations.
Kansas began its two-phase $40 million DMV modernization effort in 2009, with the first phase focused on improving the car titling and registrations process. That initial phase was supposed to be completed in 2011, but development and testing problems pushed the finish line back to 2012. When it was finally rolled out last May, it was such a disaster that the state has continued to withhold some 10 percent of the contract proceeds from the system developer, 3M, until it fixes the ongoing problems. The second phase of the modernization project, which calls for converting driver licensing functions to the new DMV system, is scheduled to occur this year. Given past history, Kansans are probably looking forward to that day as much as trip to the dentist to get a root-canal.
50 Thousand Subarus Recalled for Fob Fix
CNN Money reported on Thursday that Japanese car manufacturer Subaru is recalling 47 419 Legacy, Outback and Impreza models produced from 2010 to 2013, as well as Crosstrek vehicles from 2013. The vehicles in question are equipped with an automatic or CVT transmission and an Audiovox remote engine starter (RES) key accessory. Subaru told the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (see recall NHTSA Campaign Number: 13V061000 [pdf]) that if the RES key fob is dropped, it “may malfunction and randomly transmit an engine start request without pressing the button.”
If that happens, Subaru says, “The engine may inadvertently start and run for up to fifteen minutes. The engine may continue to start and stop until the fob battery is depleted, or until the vehicle runs out of fuel. If the vehicle is parked in an enclosed area, there is a risk of carbon monoxide build-up which may cause headaches, dizziness or, in extreme cases, unconsciousness and/or asphyxiation.”
Subaru says it will be contacting owners, and dealers will replace the fobs free of charge.
Software Glitch Again Postpones Riverside County, Calif., Emergency Radio System
A story in the U-T San Diego on Friday reported that a $172.8 million state-of-the-art radio system being built by Motorola being built for Riverside County, California and which was supposed to be rolled out this month has suffered a “software glitch” that will delay its rollout to at least mid-summer, at the earliest. The radio system is meant to allow law enforcement officers, firefighters and other public safety agencies to communicate across all Riverside County's 1866 hectares (7206 square miles, which is about the size of New Jersey); the area includes the resort cities of Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage.
A county spokesman told the U-T that, “There was a problem with the software that [Motorola] provided. It prevented immediate communication in some instances, which was just unacceptable because of the safety factor.”
The radio system was supposed to be rolled out in 2010.
The New SimCity: Too Much Fun for Its Own Good
Finally, there was news that Electronic Arts subsidiary Maxis, the maker of the new SimCity game released last Tuesday, is having server troubles because of the unexpected demand. As a result, some purchasers of the game, which is being descried as the possibly the “world’s most dangerous video game” because it is so addictive, have been unable to play it because they couldn’t get connected to a remote game server (which is a basic requirement of playing the game) while others complained that they were disconnected while they were busily building their cities.
A blog post on Friday at the SimCity site tried to explain what went happened this way: “So what went wrong? The short answer is: a lot more people logged on than we expected. More people played and played in ways we never saw in the beta. OK, we agree, that was dumb, but we are committed to fixing it. In the last 48 hours we increased server capacity by 120 percent. It’s working—the number of people who have gotten in and built cities has improved dramatically. The number of disrupted experiences has dropped by roughly 80 percent.”
Maxis also said that “to get us back in your good graces, we’re going to offer you a free PC download game from the EA portfolio. On March 18, SimCity players who have activated their game will receive an email telling them how to redeem their free game.”
The company is promising even more server capacity over the course of this week, and if the above offer is any indication, it hopes its server problems will be over by next Monday.
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.