IT Needs to Keep its Eye on the Ball

IT needs to keep its eye on the ball, meaning it has to make sure that above all, that critical systems keep working no matter what.

IT has a tough job. It needs to balance the needs of the present while looking forward to what will be required in the future. If you take your eye off the ball in the interest of updating systems over keeping crucial ones running, it could cost you.

That’s what happened at RBS, a bank based in Edinburgh, Scotland where problems began at the end of last month. In an article on TechCentral the bank’s CEO Stephen Hester explained that his IT lost that balance, putting too much time into what he called innovating, and not enough time into running the nuts and bolts of the department.

Perhaps he didn’t say it gracefully, but what he meant is they tried to do too much too quickly — and quite frankly it was disaster.

What followed was the stuff of IT nightmares, especially for a bank. After trying to upgrade the system batch processing software, something went terribly wrong. Suddenly people couldn’t access their funds because the system failed to update balances. Last week new problems popped up. Some customers never stopped having problems a month after the initial issue.

Now the blame game begins. That the CEO is publicly blaming IT shouldn’t come as any surprise to the IT pros who read this blog, but unfortunately in this case, it looks like it really might have been IT’s fault. And with a mistake this bad, let’s face it, somebody is going to have to answer for it.

When you have a screw up like this one, customers aren’t very forgiving, not when it comes to being locked out of access to their money, some for almost 30 days. It makes them ornery and nervous. It puts the company in the cross hairs of regulators. It upsets shareholders. It exposes the company to ridicule in the media. In short, it’s what IT never wants to do, make itself the center of a huge mess.

Those of us on the outside don’t really know what lead to this issue. We can only observe the fallout and try to learn from this company’s mistakes, which will very likely be a case study for a class one day.

In the end, this becomes a cautionary tale for every IT pro. You need to make sure your most crucial systems can always be in place, even during an upgrade. Go slowly and don’t ever expose your company in the manner this one was, because if you do, it gets ugly in a hurry.


  1. djohnston says:

    If the IT department has to answer for any mistakes, does the Royal Bank of Scotland have to answer for the bailout billions given to them?

    • Ron Miller says:

      That’s an entirely different matter outside the purview of this blog (not that I don’t have personal opinions on the matter, but this is not the forum to discuss it).

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