According to a story at Post & Parcel, the UK Royal Mail was expecting to have its busiest day of the year yesterday with more than 130 million letters, cards and parcels being handled, as opposed to the normal 59 million pieces.
Unfortunately, the Post & Parcel article also reported that the Royal Mail's national computer system called Horizon failed twice for 30-minute intervals yesterday afternoon, shutting down the retail operations across many of the Royal Mail's 11,800 branches. A London Telegraph story today indicated that some 4,000 branches, including many of the largest, were put out of action.
The result, says this article at the Daily Mail, was "chaos" as "Christmas shoppers [were] unable to post presents, tax their car, pay bills or access their savings."
The BBC reported that there continued to be problems with the Royal Mail web site as well. The glitches, which have been affecting the ability for home or office customers to frank their mail, apparently have been happening since the 21st of November as a result of the "migration of online data to new servers," says ComputerWorld UK. Just last week, the Royal Mail admitted that some 600 customers were charged twice for purchases of postage on-line, for which Gary Simpson, the Royal Mail's Chief Customer Officer has since apologized.
This is the second major computer hiccup for the Royal Mail this year. In late July, some 3.3 million account holders were kept from accessing their accounts for most of a day.
The Royal Mail apologized for yesterday's IT problems, saying:
"We are very sorry for the inconvenience this problem has caused customers."
Verizon Wireless management is also apologizing for an embarrassing glitch that happened yesterday, too. According to a story at the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Verizon mistakenly sent an emergency text test message to its Droid smart-phone customers in Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties of New Jersey.
The message read:
"CMAS Alert. Civil Emergency in this area until 1:24 PM EST Take Shelter Now."
The message and its apparent urgency caused many Droid owners to call the police to find out what was going on. The inquiry calls then overloaded local police telephone lines, causing some police departments to put out a text message of their own saying that there was in fact no emergency.
A Verizon spokesperson was quoted in the article as saying:
"We apologize for any inconvenience or concern this message may have caused."
However, according to an AP article, Verizon:
"... didn't say why the message was sent without being labeled as a test or whether Monday's incident was the first time such a mistake had occurred."
Another group apologizing for a computer glitch, this time occurring late last week, were officials from the Illinois Tollway's I-PASS system. According to a story in the Chicago Tribune, the I-Pass computer system "... went haywire as it attempted to deduct money from customers' credit and debit card accounts" very early Friday morning.
The note on the Illinois Tollway's web site described the problem more blandly as the occurrence of "... a series of erroneous automatic balance replenishment charges and refunds."
Some 4,500 I-Pass users were affected by the glitch, which has been now fixed. However, Illinois Tollway officials admitted to the Tribune that they still don't fully understand what caused the problem in the first place.
The I-Pass system has had a number of frustrating glitches over the years (see here and here). A new toll system is scheduled to be installed in 2014, the Tribune says.
On another glitch-related note that hasn't been fully explained or resolved, Virgin America apparently is still having problems with its new Sabre reservation system, which started several weeks ago as I noted in this blog post. As of this morning, Virgin was still warning its customers that they "... may encounter errors while making flight changes and completing other processes online."
Everything was supposed to be all fixed by the 1st of December, but obviously that has not happened. Virgin's web site does say, however, "We apologize to all our guests and appreciate your patience as we finalize this transition."
I suspect Virgin's guests' patience is wearing a bit thin at this point.
Finally, SAP announced on Friday that it was going to hold off rolling out the upgrade to its community network portal because of a number of "critical issues," reports a story at PC World. In a bit of refreshing candor, SAP said its new portal wasn't nearly ready for prime time yet, and rather than roll out a buggy product, it was better to wait and get things working right first.
Now, if only all IT product and service providers took the attitude not to roll out software before its time.
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.