Another week, another newsworthy IT failure. Last weekend, the UK bank TSB migrated its customer accounts to a platform belonging to its new parent company, Sabadell.
The migration has led to days of chaos for the bank’s customers and staff, and some troubling times for executives who have struggled to get a grip on the situation and to provide reliable information to those affected.
There were warnings about the risks of the migration when the deal between Lloyds Banking Group (which previously owned TSB) and Sabadell was first announced back in 2015. For anyone who has been involved in an exercise like this it won’t be a great surprise that there have been problems. Understanding and unpicking the complex technology environments in large financial organisations can be challenging to say the least.
Banks have a particularly poor track record in the long list of IT disasters. Here in Australia, ANZ customers recently experienced a significant outage whilst in the UK, RBS ran into trouble in 2012, and again in 2015 and 2016. Meanwhile, their competitors Barclays and HSBC have also had high profile outages or payment failures. All have suffered reputational damage as a result.
Whenever I hear about an IT disaster hitting a bank (or other big companies), I think of the inevitable statement about being “customer-centric” or “truly customer focused” which is likely to be lurking somewhere in the company’s values or charter. It’s easy to come up with these statements but not so easy to apply them in a meaningful way.
Where relationships between companies and customers are dependent on technology, each technology change presents a risk to that relationship. Awareness of the effects of failures on the lives of real people, and measures to identify potential problems are as important as ever. Or to put it another way, a lack of awareness of the way technology affects people, and a failure to identify potential problems can lead to serious damage to a company.
Identifying and articulating problems (including the potential effects on people) is something that skilled testers can help with.
I wasn’t involved in the TSB migration. I don’t have any specific knowledge of what did or did not happen, but in my experience of large scale migrations and other big projects, there have been a broad spectrum of testing activities and diverse responses to those activities.
Sometimes little testing takes place. Sometimes coachloads of testers descend on a company for many months (this doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes).
Sometimes testing is treated as a ‘painting by numbers’ exercise which achieves little more than ticking a box on a project plan. Sometimes highly effective testing provides projects and stakeholders with really valuable information.
Sometimes that information gets diluted by layers of management before it reaches the people who might be concerned about what they are hearing. Sometimes the information helps save companies from making big and costly mistakes.
For TSB, the costs are now stacking up. Customer compensation, lost revenue, expensive consultants from IBM, perhaps regulatory fines to come, not to mention the reputational damage and long term perception of the bank; this will be an expensive failure.
Spending money on testers does not guarantee desirable outcomes; there are many factors which can positively or negatively affect projects big or small. But taking testing seriously – finding, employing, supporting and paying attention to skilled testers with empathy for the people who will use technology – could be one of the best investments a ‘truly customer focused’ company can make.