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Testing Disasters

  • 10/09/2009
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As many of you will know, potential software disasters can easily turn into reality and in the vast majority of cases, can be or could have been avoided. Testing plays a vital role in the succesful implementation/launch of software and in many of the disasters that will be outlined later in this article, a greater emphasis on testing could have prevented any problems.

There is an old motto that ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’ and this is true in everyday tasks as well as in complex IT projects. Some of the best-known IT related disasters could have learnt from this – Microsoft’s live demo of their Voice recognition software – view video, the notorious millenium bug which netted consultants billions of dollars and more recently, the open of Heathrow’s Terminal Five.

The launch of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was meant to be a proud day for British Airways but instead turned into an absolute PR disaster as the failure of the baggage handling systems disrupted thousands of holidaymakers plans.
On the day of opening it quickly became apparent that the new terminal was not operating smoothly, and British Airways cancelled 34 flights and was later forced to suspend baggage check-in. Over the following 10 days some 28,000 bags failed to travel with their owners, and over 500 flights were cancelled.

The difficulties were later blamed on a number of problems with the terminal’s IT systems, coupled with insufficient testing and staff training and cost BA a considerable amount through a subsequent advertising campaign to assure the public that things.

Another spectacular IT failure that can be attributed to insufficient testing is the Siemens passport system fiasco. It was the summer of 1999, and half a million British citizens were less than happy to discover that their new passports couldn’t be issued on time because the Passport Agency had brought in a new Siemens computer system without sufficiently testing it and training staff first.
Hundreds of people missed their holidays and the Home Office had to pay millions in compensation, staff overtime and umbrellas for the poor people queuing in the rain for passports. But why such an unexpectedly huge demand for passports? The law had recently changed to demand, for the first time, that all children under 16 had to get one if they were travelling abroad.

Tory MP Anne Widdecombe summed it up well while berating the then home secretary, Jack Straw, over the fiasco: “Common sense should have told him that to change the law on child passports at the same time as introducing a new computer system into the agency was storing up trouble for the future.” (Taken from ZDNET.co.uk)

The Airbus A380 also experienced problems and delays due to a lack of testing and forward planning. This was a major European undertaking and, according to Business Week, the problem arose with communications between two organisations in the group: the French Dassault Aviation and a Hamburg factory. Put simply, the German system used an out-of-date version of CATIA and the French system used the latest version. So when Airbus was bringing together two halves of the aircraft, the different software meant that the wiring on one did not match the wiring in the other. The cables could not meet up without being changed.

The problem was eventually fixed, but only at a cost that nobody seems to want to put an absolute figure on. But all agreed it cost a lot, and put the project back a year or more.

Other notable inclusions include McDonalds plan to create an intranet so grand in scale and scope that it was quiet literally impossible – In 2001, the fast-food chain conceived a project to create an intranet connecting headquarters with far-flung restaurants that would provide operational information in real time. Under the plan, dubbed Innovate, a manager in the company’s Oak Brook HQ would know instantly if sales were slowing at a franchise in Orlando, or if the grill temperature at a London restaurant wasn’t hot enough. It just proved far too much to bite off (taken from Informationweek.com)

There are of course numerous other examples where a lack of testing can be attributed as a major factor in the failure or delay of major projects – so if anybody would like to add some, feel free to do so through the comments section below

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