‘Bug’ged with technology

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | SWATI SHARMA
Published May 9, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated May 9, 2019, 12:09 am IST
While the term “technical glitch” is most often used to explain any system breakdown, experts believe that human error is usually the culprit.
Significantly, a lot of software issues are human induced and get propagated at some point in the life cycle of the product.
 Significantly, a lot of software issues are human induced and get propagated at some point in the life cycle of the product.

Recently, despite knowing that there were flaws in the software that could result in errors, the Telangana State Board of Intermediate Education (TSBIE) and Globarena Technologies Pvt Limited went ahead and declared the examination results, with tragic effect. The miscalculations in the marks took away the lives of twenty-five Intermediate students who committed suicide.  

In yet another instance, thousands of Air India passengers were stranded at airports across the world recently after a software “glitch” left those travelling with the national carrier unable to check in. Around 150 flights were affected with an average delay of two hours. With so much dependence on technology today, it can be safe to say that technical glitches have a significant impact on our lives.

 

“If you really dig in and look into the reasons, most of them are due to insufficient training given to the people who operate the system rather than the system itself. For instance, of late, there have been a lot of complaints about “technical glitches” with the EVMs. A presiding officer or polling officer might not know how to connect the control unit properly and it subsequently gets termed as a technical glitch, which ideally should not be the case,” explains Y. Raghu Reddy, Associate Professor and Head Software Engineering Research Center, IIIT Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, Ramesh Loganathan, Professor, Co-Innovation at IIIT Hyderabad, who served as a Chief Innovation Officer (interim) of the Telangana State Innovation Cell, says, “Normally such systems have sufficient backup. Enterprise solutions like airline systems are also software running in hardware. They are prone to such errors or system issues, although there are backup servers for most issues. But once in several years, they hit a very bad issue for which no redundancy was planned. I’m sure the Air India issue falls into this category.”

Significantly, a lot of software issues are human induced and get propagated at some point in the life cycle of the product. “For example, people attribute incorrect "board exam scores in Telangana" to a technical glitch rather than stating that it’s a data entry issue. A data entry issue is not a technical glitch. In my view, the primary reason for technical glitches is humans who work with the system rather than the software or hardware itself. Having said that, no hardware works independently and is invariably driven by some software. So long as humans are in the loop, technical glitches are bound to occur,” explains Raghu Reddy.

“Software glitches are at some level no different from quality of work issues anywhere. While all efforts are made to ensure good quality with no defects, sometimes a few do slip through the cracks in the process. These are relatively rare occurrences. They are like accidents anywhere. Completely unintended," explains Ramesh Loganathan.

Technical glitches can mean different things in different contexts. “If it refers to disruption due to IT then it may involve outage or breakdown of one or many components of the IT infrastructure such as networks, servers, desktop, laptop computers and wireless devices. Every organisation must have a business continuity plan or disaster recovery plan which will address how to and how soon business operations can be restored through well established recovery processes,” says Bharani Aroll, CEO, Infopeers Solutions.

So what exactly needs to be done? With the advent of cyber physical systems, it has become imperative that the developers take care to ensure that the systems perform exactly as they are supposed to. “In the big picture, the percentage of such erroneous systems is fairly small but since they tend to be critical in nature, the focus seems to be more on them. We need better engineers rather than just programmers or developers. One way to address this is to actually set up a mechanism to get software engineers as well as computer engineers professionally licensed. Once they are licensed, they can held accountable,” says Raghu Reddy.

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