Off-Target

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and my oldest daughter and her family were visiting for the weekend.  I was staying connected with them and somewhat disconnected from current events (which I highly recommend everyone doing on a regular basis, BTW), so I missed the news of Target’s problems Saturday and Sunday.  I figured something had happened when my daughter told me she had tried to buy something online at www.target.com but couldn’t.  She did what every other millennial would do—she bought it from another site (not sure if it was www.amazon.com or www.walmart.com ).

This morning I read this good summary in the Wall Street Journal. It starts out like this:

Technical problems at Target Corp. TGT -0.74% stores this weekend frustrated shoppers, who were unable to make purchases for two hours on Saturday or use a credit card at some stores on Sunday.

Unfortunately, technical issues like this happen all the time.  Sometimes they occur on systems or platforms that are non-mission-critical (an internal SharePoint site for a company’s softball league, for example).  The Target issues were not life-or-death, but they were critical.  How many customers went to another site or store to buy what they wanted to buy at Target, resulting in lower revenue for Target for a few hours? More importantly how many customers went somewhere else and may not go to this somewhere else instead of Target in the future? What was the impact to customer loyalty for those who experienced the issues, and for those customers who simply read or heard about them? Either way, this is definitely bad news for the 8th largest retailer in the US (source: Kantar Consulting 2018 Top 100 Retailers List.)

It’s Monday and Target has not specifically announced the root cause (Saturday’s outage caused by “routine maintenance” and Sunday’s caused by their payment vendor had an issue at one of their data centers). Were these instances avoidable? Were proper guidelines in place to prevent these, but were not followed?  Or are their gaps in their guidelines?  What is Target’s testing process for “routine maintenance”? Were they followed? Are their gaps? Do they do performance testing? Does their payment vendor employ multiple hot sites to avoid a single point of failure? I assume Target will be asking these questions.  Will they address all the issues once they are identified? How long will that take?  Will they let their customers know what they find out? 

I don’t work for Target and I can’t answer these questions.  Given their success and their reliance on technology I assume they are aggressively trying to get to the root cause quickly and will plug the holes once they do. 

What about your business? Hopefully you didn’t have any outages this weekend that negatively affected your customers.  But do you have the right controls and procedures in place for the next time your systems need to go through “routine maintenance”?  Are you sure they will be followed?  Do you have any gaps?  How do you know if you do or you don’t? 

I hope you are asking these questions of your technology team.  If you need some help, or would just like to talk, feel free to reach out to me. 

Thanks for reading,

Kelly Stephen
President
Kelly Stephen Consulting

Strategy, Execution, Delivery

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