From cyber-crime to human error: The rise of software failures
From cyber-crime to human error: The rise of software failures

Software failures aren't a new phenomenon, yet they are a recurring issue that continues to plague global organisations; with the likes of the health sector, aviation and even the US Government's prison service falling foul to major IT issues. The most prevalent reasons behind software failures include cyber-attacks, human error, legacy IT, power surges, software bugs and poorly tested software updates. Software failures in 2016 alone, due to reasons such as these, caused a loss of US$ 1.1 trillion (£840 billion) to businesses[1]; a staggering figure that proves it is time for business leaders to pay attention to the main causes of IT system failures or risk financial loss and reputational damage.

Stopping cyber-criminals in their tracks

As organisation's IT systems increase in complexity, it is essential that quality assurance is prioritised above all else. Cyber-criminals have brought organisations to their knees by exploiting poor security protocol and targeting legacy IT systems, a popular target for skilled hackers. In fact, a recent government survey revealed nearly half of British businesses discovered at least one cyber-security breach or attack in the past year, increasing to two-thirds among medium to large businesses[2]. It's no longer a matter of if a business suffers a data breach, it's when it happens, how far-reaching the effects will be, and how they can be managed most effectively.

The threats to organisations don't stop there though. Software failures can lead to major financial, reputational and operational repercussions. Smart home products have recently suffered from software bugs after an update drained the entire battery, leaving users relying on the technology to heat their homes, literally in the cold.

Worryingly advanced military technology is even susceptible to the dangers of software failures. In an area where cutting-edge technology is the difference between success and failure, software issues simply are not acceptable. Despite this, a fighter jet, reportedly riddled with software issues[3], had a software bug in its radar device so severe that the pilot was required to turn it off and on again in-flight to reboot the system. Clearly, this poses problems to the pilot who had to concentrate on remediating software faults, rather than the potentially dangerous job at hand.

While faults such as these directly impacted the user, software failures can impact an entire country's economy. The financial sector is particularly reliant on cutting-edge technology to input algorithms that control the financial market, and is therefore especially vulnerable to system failures. In fact, banks continue to be placed under scrutiny after facing regulatory fines for IT failures delaying customers receiving their pay cheques, direct debits going ‘missing' and outages caused by high volumes of network traffic.  

 Addressing basic IT hygiene

Clearly, IT system failures can affect all sectors and often have negative personal, economic or safety implications. Organisations, both in the private and public sector, must follow basic IT system hygiene when it comes to ensuring software quality and preventing serious system failures. Nobody can afford to bury their heads in the sand in the digital age, and they certainly can't ignore basic business IT protocols. Quality must be prioritised. Thankfully, businesses can take steps to mitigate risks by ensuring quality assurance practices are employed throughout product lifecycles and internal processes to improve business agility. This means quality must be the key consideration right from the moment of conception, in conjunction with the use of robotic process automation (RPA) to reduce the impact of human error.  

It is clear software failures aren't a problem that will simply just go away and it is an issue businesses must tackle head-on. As the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into play next year, companies are under more pressure than ever to get this right once and for all, or face fines of up to €20 million or four percent of their annual turnover, depending on which is higher. By prioritising quality and taking a quality first approach, businesses can be sure they are doing everything in their power to avoid IT system failures and remain competitive.

Contributed by Phil Codd, managing director Ireland & UKI regional director at SQS Group

*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media or Haymarket Media.