Worst Possible Time for an IT Failure

With the World Series looming, the Colorado Rockies’ ticket-sales woes underscore the inherent business risks of technology.
Stephen TaubOctober 23, 2007

Colorado Rockies opponents have not found a way to slow down the streaking baseball team, which has won 21 of its last 22 games on the way to its first World Series appearance. However, a technology bump put the brakes on ticket sales for the Series, which starts Wednesday.

Companies face a number of challenges from heavy reliance on technology, including ensuring adequate capacity to meet unusual demand and vulnerability to hackers. One or both of those factors may have been present in this case.

The Rockies announced Monday that due to an overload of demand — more than 8.5 million hits on its website — Paciolan, an independent vendor handling the team’s World Series ticket sales, experienced a system-wide outage. As a result, after selling only 500 tickets, the Rockies had to temporarily suspend sales for the third through fifth games of the series, which are slated to be played at its Coors Field home in Denver.

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However, later in the day team spokesman Jay Alves announced that the website had crashed because of “an external malicious attack,” according to an Associated Press report.

On Tuesday, the home page of the Rockies’ website prominently featured a statement saying only that Paciolan had experienced an outage, without attributing it to any particular cause. Calls to the CFOs of Paciolan and the Rockies were not immediately returned.

This is just the latest entry in the annals of companies that experienced devastating technology failures at critical times for their business.

Among the most high-profile tragedies befell Hershey Foods Corp. in the autumn of 1999. After working for three years to implement a massive enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system from SAP AG and two other vendors that would put all the company’s operations on one integrated computing platform, the company flipped the switch not long before Halloween candy-buying season.

Bad timing. Hershey found itself scrambling to fix fix glitches in its order-processing and shipping functions. During the busiest season of the year, big customers like WalMart and Kmart were loading up on extra Halloween candy from competitors like Mars and Nestlé, while Hershey warehouses piled up with undelivered Kisses, Twizzlers, and peanut-butter cups. The upshot: Third-quarter sales dropped by a staggering 12.4 percent from the previous year, and earnings were off 18.6 percent.