IT Focus editorial opinion: Man-made IT mistakes

The old adage says, “To err is human; to really foul things up requires a computer.” That may never have been more true for Canadian financiers than it was this past summer. “Glitches” as the mainstream press called them, plagued many a bank.

In June RBC Financial Group came across one of these digital demons. Said glitch resulted in transactions appearing twice in some customer accounts.

In July CIBC experienced problems with some customers’ personal lines of credit when another glitch caused double dipping to occur. Withdrawals appeared twice on transaction records.

TD Bank Financial Group had a situation with its EasyWeb application. It was overloaded and went down for of several hours.

The banks threw high-quality damage control on the situations. TD said it was a minor anomaly, assuring customers that it probably wouldn’t happen again. CIBC pointed out that very few of its clients were affected — less than one per cent.

RBC came in for some criticism when it didn’t put CIO Martin Lippert before the people immediately to explain what happened. Lippert eventually did come out to describe the problem as resulting from human error. Apparently someone entered the wrong code during a program refresh.

That someone and perhaps others like him or her are as much to blame for the banks’ tough summer as tech glitches are. A glitch suggests some unforeseeable, unavoidable technology mishap transpired. But at RBC, technology didn’t fail; a person made a mistake. Likewise at TD, a person decided what the EasyWeb threshold would be.

At CIBC, company spokesperson Rob McLeod said a “technical change” resulted in the double dipping, which sounds for all the world as if flesh and blood played into the situation.

Human beings were instrumental in these tech problems. That accords with what IT analysts have been saying about business continuity for quite some time: it’s as much about human processes as it is about technology. Financial institutions cannot ignore the human side of tech endeavours, especially as IT and the people in charge of this department play an evermore-increasing role in providing financial services.

It’s encouraging to see, then, how many financial institutions keep the human aspect in mind. BMO Financial Group, for instance, put its new data centre — part of its disaster recovery infrastructure — in Barrie, Ont., not only for the municipality’s proximity to another BMO tech building, but also for its high quality of life, something to keep the data centre staffers happy about working there.

Meanwhile at Equitable Life Insurance of Canada, Andrew Garland, the systems administrator, says his firm chose a new batch processing job scheduler in part because it was easy to use. The company kept people in mind during the selection process.

The human element is instrumental for these companies, even if IT is the vehicle. Maintain a similar focus on people as well as tech at your shop lest, as another old adage suggests, you should be compared to a poor carpenter who blames his tools for problems.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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