Public and Commercial Software Disasters

Duncan Rouch drouch at molbiol.ox.ac.uk
Mon Jun 6 11:22:19 EST 1994


Hi Netters

Out of interest, I comment on part of a UK TV program shown last night,
"Computer Triangle" from "The Money Program" on BBC2, about public and 
commercial software disasters.

Imagine you wrote a program and it was beta-tested without you
knowing: not so bad.  Now imagine your program was an application 
to despatch ambulances in a major capital city.... 

This took place for real in London UK, October 26 1992. The new 1.5 M pounds
(US$2.3 M) computer system was made the only live support for ambulance 
despatch while still at beta-test level.  As messages on the system built up, 
chaos resulted as the system slowed down, ambulances were sent to the wrong 
places, or several of them to the same incident. 

This and other examples shown in the program indicate that major computing 
disasters are regular happenings in both the public and commercial sectors.
Losses were quoted in millions of pounds, with one at 48 M pounds (US$72 M). 
The examples were from the UK only, but the same kinds of things are likely
to be going on in other countries.

The prime cause is usually management ignorance combined with bad commercial
consultants.  So, it might be useful if some of the computer-science know-how 
at universities was used in consultancies to help stop wasting all that
public money on modern dinosaurs, not to mention to help the police,
firebrigade and ambulance services do better jobs. 


Duncan Rouch
New Chemistry Lab, University of Oxford, UK.




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