Big Business IT Fails: What We Can Learn from Their Mistakes


Despite their high-value assets and international reputations, big businesses are not immune to the digital woes that routinely beset SMEs. It’s easy to think of big corporations being more in control of their IT systems, yet many have slipped up — and in a big way. 

Big business IT failures can be catastrophic not just for the brand but their customer base as well. While we shouldn’t revel in their mistakes and misfortune, we can certainly learn from them. The very nature of their public IT disasters means that we can gain an insight into what has happened and protect ourselves as a result. 

So where have big businesses failed, and what can we learn from their mistakes?

The RBS Banking Group System Collapse

The notorious RBS Group computer system collapse remains a poignant example of how lack of investment in IT services can lead to disaster. After years of under-investing in their systems, RBS attempted to roll out a single, massive upgrade that it wasn’t prepared to handle. 

The upgrade was full of corrupted files and caused failure of many payment processing systems across the banking group. Six and a half million customers were affected, some unable to use their cards, pay bills or access credit. 

RBS was fined £56 million by regulators as a result. 

Had they maintained their IT systems properly over the years, this massive IT failure could have easily been avoided. 

Delta Airlines Computer Outage

In 2016, a five-hour IT system outage cost Delta Airlines $150 million. This nightmare for the air transform giant was caused by a cascading series of IT issues that eventually resulted in electrical problems, equipment failure and even a small fire. 

The cause was simple: old technology.

Delta Airlines was running a hugely popular booking system on outdated hardware that could not cope with the demand. IT systems in the headquarters failed due to overload, and the result was more than 2,100 cancelled flights. 

New York Stock Exchange Freeze

2015 saw the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) out of action for three hours, an event that had some far-reaching consequences for businesses and traders. 

The cause of the issue, as with similar outages that have affected other stock markets — including the London Stock Exchange — was never officially revealed. However, insider sources point not to a cyber attack but a poorly designed IT infrastructure behind the technology required to run the NYSE. 

The systems had not been designed with enough thought and redundancies in place to have any resilience to IT failures, which meant if something went wrong, it all did. 

British Airways Data Breach

British Airways was hit by one of the largest GDPR fines to date after a security breach exposed a vast quantity of customer data, including credit card information. Initially facing a gargantuan £183 million fine, the amount was reduced to £20 million in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the airline industry. 

Still, the event was incredibly damaging to both British Airways’ revenue and its reputation. 

The investigation into the British Airways breach found that the big corporation was not using sufficient IT security systems to protect its customers’ data. The airline had not put into place reasonable measures, failing to invest appropriate resources into its IT services. 

Interestingly, British Airways even had access to some of the solutions it needed to protect customer data and prevent the breach. The company just hadn’t activated the features. 

Key Takeaways from Big Business IT Fails

The most obvious mistake made by all the big businesses listed above was a simple failure to invest enough time and resources into making sure their IT systems were up to the challenges being ascribed to them. 

Modern IT systems are the lifeblood of a business; they are no longer just helpful tools but essential assets that support company survival. 

Sixty per cent of small businesses that suffer a major cyber breach are out of business within six months. The loss of data and financial cost of recovery is often too much to cope with. While major cyber attacks are extreme cases, the same experience can be seen in widespread IT failures. 

The resultant downtime can destroy a business.

We can learn from these big business failures by putting a greater emphasis on IT stability. If SMEs invest an appropriate amount of resources into their systems, they’ll be far less likely to have trouble with them. 

Good IT consultancy, regular software upgrades and advanced cyber security processes all contribute to a more structured and secure IT system that helps businesses not only thrive but survive.