Digital Transformation

IT outage at 500+ Woolworths shows double-edged sword of digital transformation

Patrons across Australia were turned away or forced to leave certain stores after an IT glitch shut down all of the store's computers for about 30 minutes.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • 500 Woolworth's supermarkets across Australia struggled to reboot their systems after an IT glitch.
  • Woolworths customers flooded Twitter to complain about the IT outage, which forced many of them to leave the store they were shopping at.

Shoppers were left scrambling at Woolworths stores across Australia after an IT problem shut down all of the supermarket's computers and checkout stations in 500 stores.

From Sydney to Adelaide, customers were forced to leave their shopping carts behind and exit the store while staff members tried to remedy the issue. Woolworths, one of the biggest supermarkets in Australia, became a trending topic on Twitter in the country, with thousands of customers tweeting their displeasure at the store during the incident.

A Twitter user named Liz Green wrote that she was in a store when the computers went down and said the employees were "trying to cope with frantic calls to IT."

On Twitter, Woolworths released a statement about the situation, confirming that "an IT issue impacted registers in our supermarkets for a short period of time this afternoon."

SEE: Vendor Relationship Policy (Tech Pro Research)

"This was related to an update to our IT systems. Our systems ultimately self-corrected themselves and we were back and open for trade across most stores by 4:30pm, with all stores now operational," said CEO Brad Banducci. "This type of incident should not occur and we apologise unreservedly to our customers and store teams for the inconvenience caused."

One local news outlet, 9News, claimed sources told them that Woolworths computer databases had been corrupted somehow and the system apparently struggled to restore its backups.

After an hour, the situation had been resolved and customers were able to shop again.

Woolworths has struggled to modernize its systems and even after overhauling the company, there have been multiple IT mishaps that have plagued the supermarket chain.

In 2016, after suffering AU$1.2b in losses for that fiscal year, the company spent AU$199.1 million to digitize their decrepit systems. But the company has still struggled, apologizing to customers last August for a glitch in their system that caused online customers to be charged twice for products.

Ronny Guillaume, a system engineer of security for Cisco Systems, told our sister site ZDNet that large corporations often struggle to choose vendors and manage them well due to a general lack of expertise about what is needed to secure their systems and run them smoothly.

"Studies have shown that companies have up to 70 different security vendors installed and in their company to solve problems," Guillaume said in Sydney in 2016. "Now imagine if you had to go and look at 70 different security products and understand what's going on within your specific network — it's almost impossible."

The issue also highlights the double-edge sword of digital transformation. New technology is needed to satisfy customers, but it brings a distnct set of challenges that an organization may not be ready to face.

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Image: iStockphoto/nonnie192

About Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig is a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.

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