Study on private vs public sector software glitches

In the private sector, software errors are causing both financial and reputational damage. A new study identified private sector businesses in the banking, retail and mobile sectors, more likely to suffer software malfunctions than public sector organizations.

The SQS team analyzed two years’ worth of news reports about software and computer failures, covering 964 stories and 245 UK-based organizations. While the level of public sector computer-glitch reporting remained constant during 2011 and 2012, reports on private sector computer problems have tripled.

The retail sector was the most error-prone in 2011, with 21 per cent of all stories, while mobile followed at 10 per cent and banking and local government at 6 per cent each. In 2012, reports of banking sector computer failures rocketed to 61 per cent of all stories, followed by retail at 7 per cent, mobile and education at 4 per cent, while local government claimed 2 per cent of glitch stories.

Stephen Fice, MD of SQS UK, commented: “Software is increasingly more complex at a time when private sector firms are under pressure to attract new customers through innovation, and offer a high level of service to retain existing customers. Private sector companies are adopting new technologies at an unprecedented pace, and price-sensitive consumers expect high standards or will search out an alternative supplier. In comparison, public sector IT budgets have been cut or remain static, so new IT systems are less likely to be adopted and consequently fewer glitches are reported. Also, the public sector is more likely to adopt tried and tested technologies, which are less risky.”

New trends such as mobile banking, online retail and cloud computing are being adopted by the private sector to remain competitive. However, new technologies resulting from these trends are not always compatible with existing IT infrastructure, and this is where major problems can occur.

“Inadequate requirements gathering continues to be a major reason for poor quality of delivered software projects, and is driving the need to “shift left” and introduce software quality earlier in the software development lifecycle.

“All IT projects should have quality and testing built in from day one to reduce the likelihood of errors. No longer does a testing expert have to scroll through lines of endless code, instead testing is being automated and virtualized.

“If software quality doesn’t move up the private sector’s agenda, then we can expect more reports of IT bugs as technologies become more complex,” concluded Fice.

Software quality and testing should be delivered by qualified, in-house testing teams or specialist outsourced consultants that have the breadth of knowledge to help reduce software problems.

Examples of software glitches ranged from banking consumers being unable to access accounts to duplicate payments; while retail sector glitches include online customers overcharged, online deliveries failing to make it for Christmas, festive hampers failing to arrive, Scottish customers paying up to 70 per cent less for their shopping, iPads for £49.99 and bicycles for £1.

Public sector errors include students sitting the wrong GCSE exam, car park exit barriers only operating for Spanish speakers, approximately 164,000 pensioners charged at least £800 each after being sent the wrong tax code and car park lights being left on for four months racking up an estimated cost of £28,000.

Top tips for IT managers to avoid software errors

  • Have all stakeholders, including testers review requirements.
  • Manage the business risk – understand what the system does for your business and what failure will cost you.
  • Use your test manager to explain how close you are to a safe release, if you’re not ready, why not, and what do you need to get there.
  • Look at your history and find the three top mistakes you will never repeat.


Subscribe to the Help Net Security breaking news e-mail alerts:

More about

Don't miss