Triumphs and Travails ofBy Lawrence Walsh | Posted 2007-11-30 Email Print
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Technology can fuel business or tear it apart. Baseline recounts the best and worst of the year's tech implementations and innovations.2007: The Downside">
And the Downside ...
Even the best laid plans run afoul, especially in the world of technology and businesses that rely on IT to conduct business. This was a banner year for examples of how things can go terribly wrong when technology fails, implementation projects turn bad or IT management takes its eye off the prize.
Each year brings a new record for the size of a security breach that exposes personal data to would-be thieves and miscreants. In 2005, it was the loss of a Bank of America backup tape that contained the payroll information of 2 million federal workers. In 2006, it was the Veterans Affairs stolen laptop containing 26.5 million records of every active and inactive soldier, sailor and pilot since 1975. And this year TJX, parent company of retailers TJ Maxx and Marshalls, outdid them all with a breach initially pegged at 45.6 million credit card records and later revised up to the vicinity of 94 million. Credit card processors and banks are slugging it out with TJX in court over damages, but so far no state or federal lawmaker has stepped up to propose new controls to slow the escalating pace of identity theft and corporate breaches.
Perhaps one of the reasons the feds haven't enacted new laws to control identity theft is that they're having a hard enough time controlling passports. When the U.S. required passports for entering and exiting Mexico and Canada, it forced 17.5 million Americans to acquire a passport. Unfortunately, the new processing center could only handle 150,000 applications a month, causing a six to 12 week backlog. The feds are still digging out of the hole.
Passports and credit card breaches are big problems, but an even bigger IT problem may be looming for state and federal officials as the presidential election season draws near. Reports are beginning to surface about worms and phishing scams masquerading as presidential messages and appeals for support.
If that wasn't bad enough, the perennial problem of electronic voting machine security is resurfacing. California's Secretary of State reported in July that three of the state's e-voting systems, including those in four heavily populated southern counties, can be easily hacked, potentially compromising millions of votes. A team of experts penetrated both the physical and software security of every e-voting system they tested, including machines built by Diebold, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia.
Speaking of California, you'd have thought Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer in Fox's hit show 24 had shut down Los Angeles International Airport for security's sake, but it was just a wireless card that decided to go haywire, stranding tens of thousands of international passengers at one of the world's busiest airline terminals in August. The ensuing meltdown of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection system caused 17,000 arriving passengers to be stuck on planes for hours and stranded another 16,000 departing passengers at their gates.
Few will forget the Valentine's Day snafu that besieged JetBlue. Foul weather wreaked havoc first with the airline's flight schedule, which overloaded its computer network and exacerbated the traffic flow problems. Without accurate information for adjusting flights and routing plans, JetBlue was quickly paralyzed and thousands of passengers were stranded. Some passengers sat in their planes on the tarmac for as long as 11 hours. The incident fueled calls for a passenger bill of rights and caused airlines to adjust their flight delay policies to guard against similar PR nightmares.
Ironically, the failure of software intended to improve aircraft design and manufacturing was behind the $6 billion setback suffered by Airbus and the delayed launch of the massive double-decker Airbus 380. Design and engineering teams were using different versions of Dassault Systemes' product lifecycle management software, which caused discrepancies in measurements for critical aircraft components. Initially, the design problems were good news for rival Boeing, which was racing forward with the production of its new Dreamliner 787. However, Boeing suffered a similar setback; supply chain and software integration issues forced the American aircraft company to delay delivery of the first 787 until late 2008 and put the rest of its aggressive production schedule in jeopardy.
Some things are more important than flight schedules and making money, such as preserving human life. Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest health maintenance organization, shut down its new kidney transplant center in San Francisco in 2006 after a whistleblower tipped state and federal regulators about the center's problem: Twice as many patients had died waiting for kidneys as had received transplants. Last July, California fined Kaiser $3 million for failing to address patients' complaints about the transplant program. Kaiser had incomplete, paper records on many patients and had trouble transferring data to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which maintains a national database of patients and available organs. Information on some patients was temporarily lost.
Finally, the disappointment of the year goes to the Recording Industry Association of America, which finally won a lawsuit against an individual for illegally downloading copyrighted music. The group won a $220,000 judgment against Jammie Thomas, a single mother and low-income Native American.
Many technologists are lamenting the proceedings, claiming Thomas' lawyer didn't understand the technology enough to mount a legitimate defense. The RIAA, though, is taking most of the PR heat, given the disproportionate size of the award.
Baseline staff and contributors Lawrence M. Walsh, David F. Carr, Deborah Gage, Doug Bartholomew, Mel Duvall, Laton McCartney and Ericka Chickowski produced this report.
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