Desjardins Group system brought down by software problem

A software problem brought major portions of Desjardins Group’s IT infrastructure to a halt Monday, leaving customers in three provinces unable to carry out electronic transactions over the Internet or through ATMs for much of the business day.

Desjardins provided few details about the nature of the problem, which began at approximately 8:45 a.m. and had been resolved before 3:00 p.m. The glitch affected banking clients in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick, as well as anyone using AccèsD Internet, its online service. Desjardins employees were conducting withdrawals, transfers and other transactions manually at the branch level until the system was fixed.

“It seems to have been a technical problem in the central computer,” said Andre Chapleau, a spokesman for the Levis, Que.-based financial institution, though he said he was unable to elaborate further. “It’s something that should not have happened.”

While the Royal Bank of Canada, CIBC and several other banks have encountered crippling software failures during the implementation of new applications or more recent versions of existing software, Chapleau said there was nothing unusual that triggered the problem.

“That’s what makes it awkward. There was no upgrade on the weekend, as we can do sometimes,” he said.

Desjardins more recent IT projects include its deployment of Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2004 SP2 last December. The ISA server is being used at more than 1,500 service points throughout Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick. Last year, it also began piloting Siebel 7.7 at two of its 57 business centres across the province in Laurentide and Yamaska and was scheduled to start a full rollout earlier this year.

Chapleau maintained the software failure was not due to any lapse in the credit union’s IT security, either. Desjardins uses Computer Associates Canada’s Unicenter Network and Systems Management (NSM) to protect transactions that go through SWIFT, the inter-banking network that process many debit and credit card transactions. Those functions were unaffected by the glitch, he added.

“There was no intrusion from the external world. People have been asking about viruses, hackers, and so on, but no, it wasn’t anything like that,” he said. “This is the kind of system where, once it goes down, you don’t restart it just like that.”

Desjardins, which is Quebec’s largest credit union, is better known for being an early adopter than for its IT hiccups. The company was the first in Canada to announce a chip-on-debit card deployment strategy (now set to roll out in 2008), and last year it set up a human capital management system in partnership with Bell Canada to manage and train staff at its 600 caisses.

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