TSB: When tech is everything, failure is only human

TSB: When tech is everything, failure is only human

There’s a new technology event coming to the North next year, and I have the pleasure of chairing it (watch this space for more information). This week, we brought together two steering groups to help us to shape the event in terms of its format and content.

In talking about the potential audience, one point came across clearly: technology is everything now. It permeates every aspect of business and life. It’s hard to discuss tech in isolation from its applications, and for a broad audience, it’s only the applications that are interesting.

Case studies

The success or failure of those applications — which everyone agreed is the most interesting part — is often little to do with the technology itself. It’s about how the technology is applied. It’s about how humans chose to develop, integrate and deploy it.

This reality has been brought into sharp relief by the ongoing TSB saga. Without getting into too much detail, TSB has left many of its customers with incorrect information and no access to banking by bodging the transfer from its old platform — leased at great expense from its former parent, RBS — to its new one, provided by new parent Banco Sabadell.

The old platform was famously poor, as evidenced by RBS’s own digital woes. The new platform looks better on the face of it, but transitioning nearly two million customers is no small feat. TSB appears to have tried to complete the process in far too tight a timescale, in a bid to end the fees it was paying to RBS more quickly.

The big questions

The questions I get asked on local and regional radio in the wake of these disasters are my bellwether for the mood of the nation. What are people really thinking, and who — or what — are they blaming? In the wake of the TSB disaster (though incredibly, it’s still not over as I write), their answer is in part the company, but also the technology. People’s existing scepticism about online banking and our general reliance on technology is amplified and validated.

The point I always try to get across in these cases, is that the failures are human. Technology always has vulnerabilities to failure or corruption. The more we use, the more vulnerabilities we will have. But there’s a reason why we use these technologies: they allow us to do more and be more. The benefits outweigh the risks, as long as people do their jobs in mitigating them.

Technology is not a weakness, it’s a strength. In fact it’s arguably the defining strength of the human race: the systematic application of our understanding of the world. We can do it well or we can do it badly, but that’s on us, not the inanimate (for now) objects.

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This post forms part of my Future of Technology series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future of Technology page.

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Tom Cheesewright