Thursday Grok: Somebody say IT catastrophe?

IBM gets shivved — where's my Timeline, Facebook?

What is it about Health Departments and IT systems, and why is IBM always lurking about in the shadows like Lady Macbeth? This time it's the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing that is blaming ‘Big Blue’ for a “catastrophic failure” of its IT storage systems over the weekend. And we do love our catastrophes here in the Land of Ink and Bits?

You may recall IBM's many travails at Queensland's health department over the last few years. For instance in July last year, <i>Computerworld</i> reported that the Queensland Government, who in this instance we'll call ‘the buyer’ blamed IBM who we'll call ‘the seller’ for the failure of its SAP payroll system which left thousands of its employees — let's call them ‘the victims’ or even ‘harmless little kittens’ — up the cashless creek.

The story recounted an Auditor General's report which found, "the payroll system implemented for Queensland Health employees was not properly tested and did not provide contingency plans in case of failure when it was rolled out ... despite warnings from the testing company contracted.”

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.... or at least where civil servants ditch the civil discourse. But first, for those of you who have had the good fortune never to have graced paid employment in the public sector, understand that there are certain forms to be observed when one wants to make sure an unpleasant stink gets into the press.

  1. Never, ever directly leak.
  2. Make sure others are in on the information so that it can't only be pinned back on you.
  3. Send an email and include all the attending details to a fairly wide distribution list — about half a dozen or so people will do, there's no need to go overboard.

On Tuesday, health and ageing secretary, Jane Halton, sent an email to everyone in the department (there were 5287 of them at last count) putting the knife into IBM, according to the <i> Delimiter</i>. “I spoke to the managing director of IBM yesterday and this morning and I’m writing to him today to express my extreme dissatisfaction with this completely unacceptable event on top of the delay to the implementation of our new desktop hard and software systems. This letter follows recent meetings that I, Paul Madden, the chief information and knowledge officer and deputy secretary, Andrew Stuart, have had with senior IBM executives on the desktop delay.”

Delimiter noted that for its part IBM released a statement suggesting that a regular update had lead to some performance issues. The company observed that “the storage situation had developed not necessarily to IBM's advantage," or sentiments to that effect.

Remember Timeline?

Yep, that was the big story just a few short weeks ago. Facebook's new design and layout, when conflated with its approach to cookie cutting, was going to End All Privacy as we Know it.

At the time, Facebook made Timeline available to early developers with a promise of a wider release shortly afterwards. Since then, not a jot. Now, if you're a Facebook bandit like your humble Grok, you have probably been logging in every day in anticipation of that tasty new Timeline only to be met with constant disappointment. It’s like waking up and discovering it’s only Christmas Eve, every morning. Well, this little piece from ReadWriteWeb may explain matters. The author contends that mixed feedback from early users has not been entirely glowing. Normally, Facebook tends to be pretty relaxed about small user tantrums when it tweaks its designs, and as a policy tends to steamroll right over us and our fickle ways. Not this time, so we guess the feedback must be really, really bad.

The story's author says that personally he loves Timeline but "for other early users, Timeline has messed up their main reason for visiting a person's Facebook profile: to quickly scan recent updates. While Facebook is used to mixed feedback for its re-designs, Timeline is a radical change from the old profile and so Facebook needs to be confident that its mass audience will easily adjust to the new design." Facebook's mass audience is basically the entire Western World, so a little caution on their part is understandable.

Andrew Birmingham is the CEO of Silicon Gully Investments. His current venture will make him richer than Zuckerberg, as long as IBM's storage systems don't kill him first. Email him at or follow him on Twitter @ag_birmingham

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Tags FacebookIBMhealthDepartment of Health and Ageing

More about Andrew Corporation (Australia)Big BlueDepartment of HealthFacebookIBM AustraliaIBM AustraliaOffice of the Auditor GeneralQueensland GovernmentQueensland HealthSAP Australia

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