Is “IT glitch” becoming the new “dog ate my homework”?

Organisations are constantly looking for ways to justify their latest issue or crisis.  And “IT glitch” seems to be emerging as the new all-purpose excuse.

But it’s becoming so over-used and so unconvincing that it must soon be relegated to the same discard pile as the classic joke “The dog ate my homework.”

It’s certainly almost as meaningless.  Is it intended to convey that a human error was made; or there was a programming fault; or an infrastructure breakdown; or that the IT system was hacked; or is it simply shorthand to cover up any technical failure the organisation doesn’t yet understand or can’t be bothered trying to explain.  Or maybe sometimes the truth is just too embarrassing – like when British Airways had to cancel around 800 flights from Heathrow and Gatwick in June when a contract worker reportedly accidentally switched off the so-called uninterruptable power supply to a key data centre, and an uncontrolled reboot shut down the entire system.

These days the joke excuse “The dog ate my homework” is so much ridiculed that it’s used as the title of a British children’s TV comedy show. No-one takes the phrase seriously or expects it will be believed. Yet organisations continue to seriously use “IT glitch,” even though it is at risk of becoming just as non-credible.

Despite its ambiguity – or perhaps because of it – “IT glitch” seems to be the new excuse of choice. Over just the last few months this phrase has been used to characterise:

That’s just a recent sample, though of course sometimes a lazy headline writer was to blame. And doubtless in every case there was a proper explanation, even if it wasn’t adequately shared with the public.

In the TV series Little Britain, David Walliams’ character Carol Beer introduced the famous catchphrase “Computer says no!” It was meant as a joke, and satirized trying to hide any sort of failure or laziness or incompetence behind an electronic smokescreen. But it’s no joke when public trust or investment or safety or service is at risk. The public are not stupid and they deserve much better, even if the real reason might be complicated or hard to understand.

In the face of a crisis or an emerging issue, organisations need to recognise that there is a massive difference between a real explanation and a convenient excuse. “IT glitch” is often just an excuse, and not a very good one at that.


About managingoutcomes

Issue and crisis management expert
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