Report: Software failures cost $1.1 trillion in 2016

If you’re in the C-suite, software quality might not be on the top of your to-do list. A new report totaling the damage of bad software might open your eyes.

The report, issued annually by the Austrian software testing firm Tricentis, estimates the cumulative cost of software bugs, glitches and security failures worldwide last year at a whopping $1.1 trillion. For some perspective, that’s more than the total GDP of Mexico last year.

Researchers reviewed 548 software failures they found in English language news articles. In total, the failures at some 363 companies affected some 4.4 billion customers and caused more than 315 1/2 years of lost time, according to the report. It’s like companies are burning money.

The top-line results indicate that government failures lead the pack, averaging 15 incidents per month in 2016, while retail and transportation companies followed closely.

“Government organizations typically rely on contracted developers to custom-build software that can fulfill complex operations and handle massive amounts of data,” the report says.

“Furthermore, many organizations do not have in-house resources for testing or software implementation. Even if defects are revealed during implementation, many decision makers are pressured to move ahead since they have already invested massive amounts of public funds.”

What kind of problems?

Overall, a majority of problems were software bugs. Security flaws were the second-most recorded issue, followed by usability glitches. Problems were reported in transportation, education criminal justice, health care, retail and entertainment, among other businesses.

While the figures were staggering, the report stressed that failures chronicled in news accounts are probably only a fraction of the problems that actually occurred. “There are far more software bugs in the world than we will likely ever know about,” the report says.

Remarkably, industries and governments appear to be getting worse — not better — at rolling out quality software. The report found 12 percent more problems and twice as much financial damage as compared with 2015.

Lessons to draw from the madness

If you were to take two lessons from all this, it’s these: 1. Software failure is not an accident. 2. Even though it seems everyone is doing it, failure is not unavoidable.

Software bugs and glitches, and most security holes, are the result of a series of poor decisions that start when your team writes the first line of code. They’re also the result of not having the right tools to get the job done.

If your business depends on software — these days, that’s EVERY business — here are five questions to ask your IT team:

  1. Do they have the ability to continuously test their apps in live-like conditions, effectively a wind tunnel for software?
  2. Do developers and operations staff share total visibility to keep track of all the various artifacts, database schema changes, configuration parameters and other components needed to accurately test and deploy an application?
  3. Does your ops team have a means of testing performance so they will know about performance issues before your customers take note?
  4. Do your Dev and Ops teams have a means of collaborating from start to finish?
  5. Is your company making security a priority from the start of development and not just testing after the fact? This is critical for you to know, as a security flaw could wreck your company.

To avoid winding up in next year’s list of software failures, make sure your team has satisfactory answers to all the above.