DevOoops! What are the lessons learnt of some of the biggest IT projects gone wrong?

Readiness Assessment, Industry Insight

As an essential component of our everyday lives, technology has enhanced the way we work and live. However, no one ever said deploying IT projects was easy and sometimes things don’t always go to plan, causing costly and painful failures. Without proper consideration, planning and execution, it’s easy for a project to fall apart, sometimes in a matter of minutes.

We found out some of the biggest IT projects gone wrong, some bad, some really bad and the super-important lessons we can all learn from them.


The one when a German pro basketball team was relegated to a lower division due to a Windows update

In March 2015, the Paderborn Baskets, a German basketball team, was relegated to a lower division for starting a game late, all because of a necessary 17-minute Windows update to the scoreboard’s laptop.

The game between the Paderborn Baskets and the Chemnitz Niners was due to start as normal, when Paderborn connected its laptop to the scoreboard. Paderborn Baskets manager, Patrick Seidel, claimed the laptop was connected by 6:00 p.m. (1.5 hours before the game), and was set up properly. However, according to Seidel, “As both teams warmed up, the computer crashed. When we booted it again by 7:20 p.m., it started downloading updates automatically.” When the computer finished downloading and installing all the updates, the game finally began at 7:55 p.m. Talk about bad timing.

Paderborn won the game by 7 points, however the opposition protested claiming that because the game was delayed by 25 minutes— and in German basketball, the rules only allow a 15 minutes delay—Paderborn should have been penalised. In the end, Paderborn lost a point as a penalty and found itself relegated from the ProA to the ProB division.

Lessons learnt: Fail to prepare and prepare to fail. Remember, the next time you’re at work and your laptop decides to do essential updates, delaying your working day by 10 minutes, be thankful it doesn’t cause your team to go down a division.


The one when Apple was forced to pull an iOS 8 update

Even the world’s most profitable company doesn’t get it right all of the time. In September 2014, the tech giant experienced a pretty big embarrassment when it had to withdraw its new iOS 8 operating system, just 1 hour after its release. I mean, 10/10 for efficiency.

Users took to online chatrooms and Twitter to complain that they had lost phone signal, had calls blocked, updates frozen and unlocking problems. A study by Bloomberg claimed the iOS 8 operating system crashed 67 percent more often than its predecessor. 

Lesson learnt: Run tests. Run some more. Run some more again. Any sort of IT project cannot be deployed without the knowledge that the solution has been tried and tested in an environment to ensure seamless functionality.


The one when US emergency numbers went offline for 6 hours

In April 2013, emergency services across 7 different US states were unavailable for 6 hours. The incident left 6,000 people unable to make 911 calls to 81 call centres. Every person in Washington couldn’t reach responders and the outage affected services in 6 other states. Oh dear.

But wait, it gets worse. A report from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stated that it was a totally preventable software coding error that caused the downtime. The coding error caused the system to stop giving unique IDs to 911 callers, and instead began counting them, one after the other, in one large set. When the set reached its pre-determined limit, the calls stopped coming through.

According to the FCC, the problem was rooted in many emergency services moving away from aging infrastructure to new mobile technology and it emphasised that services must not lose the nations ‘inherent trust’ in the transition.

Lesson learnt: It’s never good to skip corners. If you are responsible for providing a life-saving or life-changing service, service disruption or downtime is never acceptable. every step has to be taken to ensure that vulnerable people in crisis are able to contact responders. At ANS, we work 24/7 within water-tight SLA’s to avoid system failures like this one.


The one when a large drug wholesaler failed to implement large ERP

An oldie but a goldie. In the early 90s, FoxMeyer, was the fifth largest drug wholesaler in the United States, but it faced strong competition in the healthcare industry.

With this in mind, FoxMeyer wanted to implement a solution capable of making complex supply chain decisions while making crucial cost savings. FoxMeyer decided that an ERP would offer the best solution to get real-time information, automate, and integrate inventory systems into a unique system. The company expected to eliminate unnecessary or redundant activities, set up appropriate inventory levels, and implement more responsive customer services.

This IT system, a multi-million dollar project, had never been launched in the pharmaceutical industry before. The implementation cost for SAP was budgeted at $65 million, and the ERP system was projected to save FoxMeyer about $40 million per year.

Unfortunately, due to poor planning and implementation, the project flopped. Big time. And for so many reasons too! For starters, there was poor selection of the ERP, with no contingency plan either. There was no end user involvement in the process, insufficient testing and little management support.

It was already an overly ambitious project but crucially where it all went wrong was there was no restructuring of the business process and operations. A transition such as this one brings with it huge cultural and operational changes which transform the business as a whole.

It goes without saying that the project was a total disaster and cost FoxMeyer a whopping $100 million which lead to the company filing for bankruptcy a few months later.

Lesson learnt: Preparation is key to success. The best piece of advice here is to always include proper planning, end-user involvement and ensure a robust contingency plan is in place.


These are just a handful of embarrassing IT project failures, but these organisations aren’t alone. Studies have shown that over 50% of IT projects fail or under-deliver against their objectives, if they had a clear objective to start with.

The biggest lesson of all is to learn from these organisations. To avoid following in their footsteps we would always recommended conducting a thorough assessment. There are thousands of organisations offering IT assessment services out there. Sadly, for them, none of them have ANS’ winning formula for assessment success.

Whether you’re looking to create a business case for migrating to the cloud, or your looking to up your game with artificial intelligence, machine learning or IoT, we can show you your options from a technical, operational, financial and efficiency perspective using our proven three phase methodology.  

To learn more about our Readiness Assessment, click here.

Posted by Kate Auchterlonie