Silence of the IBM

Having one of your biggest customers roast you in the media as "slow to react to a catastrophic systems failure" and "unwilling to apologise" for it is not a good look for IBM New Zealand.
Written by Juha Saarinen, Contributor

Having the CEO of one of your biggest customers roast you in the media as "slow to react to a catastrophic systems failure" and "unwilling to apologise" is not something you'd expect to hear in conjunction with global giant IBM, but that's exactly what happened yesterday.

Air New Zealand's check-in systems went down yesterday morning, leaving thousands of passengers and airports in chaos for hours and the airline's CEO Rob Fyfe seething with anger over what he termed "being left high and dry" and "amateur results" in an internal email. Fyfe's anger at inconveniencing over 10,000 customers and losing millions in bookings will come to a head in meetings with IBM, which may end up losing Air New Zealand as a result.

Incredibly enough, what appears to have caused the issue was power failing to reach a mainframe, and the back-up generator not starting up in time. As excuses go, it probably won't fly with Air New Zealand. If a nuclear strike had annihilated the mainframe hosting site, or a huge earthquake caused the city to slide out into the sea, sure. But a power failure? That's what "mission-critical systems" are supposed to handle, right?

What's curious here is how little IBM is saying on what happened. Obviously, the whole thing is hugely embarrassing for a company that prides itself on being able to run big systems reliably but will it help if IBM clams up about it? Wouldn't it be better to be open here, and explain what actually happened? And, of course, to learn from the mistakes so that they're not repeated but that's a given, one hopes.

This isn't the first time IBM has been embroiled in controversy over a big IT system in New Zealand. In 2007 Computerworld reported that Project Sam, a combined billing and CRM system for Vodafone's Australia, New Zealand and Pacific operations had overrun its budget by hundreds of millions of dollars and was delivered late. The project started in late 2003 and again, IBM's response to the media reports about budget overruns, delays and customer dissatisfaction was ... silence. Instead, Vodafone had to front up with the answers and that can't have been enjoyable.

But wait, there's more: this year, the New Zealand Government Shared Network or GSN was deemed a failure, and canned. Reports released under the Official Information Act slam IBM's role in the GSN fiasco saying the IT giant's "performance has been characterised by non-delivery and high staff turnover of resources that did not appear to have the promised skills." IBM didn't have anything to say about the GSN fiasco either.

It looks like IBM has some work cut out to repair a dented reputation in the region, in other words.

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