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Top tech news in 2016: Trump, data breaches, Delta outage

Delta canceled flights by the thousands, Samsung lost billions and billionaire Donald Trump wins the presidency. It's all a part of 2016's top tech news, as covered by SearchCIO.

For technology news junkies, 2016 was the year of superlatives -- as in biggest, baddest and OMG. 

Spectacular thefts of personal information at some of the country's biggest tech companies put dread in the hearts of millions, slick smartphones combusted on airplanes, a tweeting presidential candidate flouted the rules and won despite the predictions of the smartest guys -- and algorithms -- in the room.

It was not hard for SearchCIO's Searchlight news columnists, whose job is to scour top tech news, to find stories that spoke to CIOs and deliver analysis and insight from industry luminaries. From data breaches at Yahoo and Dropbox to the recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 to Donald Trump's surprise victory in the U.S. presidential race, the cautionary tales kept coming.

So when we at SearchCIO looked back at the year's Searchlight columns, we found that many of the most-read columns dug into tech stories that were, in a word, yuge.

Computer failure grounds Delta

When a power outage at Delta Air Lines' headquarters in Atlanta led to thousands of canceled flights worldwide in August, CEO Ed Bastian spoke directly to Delta's customers.

"It's not clear the priorities in our investment have been in the right place," Bastian said in a video posted on Delta's website.

The problem was backup power -- or rather, not enough of it. About 300 of the airline's 7,000 servers weren't hooked up to the backup system.

Power source testing would have uncovered the issue before it became a much, much bigger one, but Delta just hadn't done enough of it, said Gartner analyst Mark Jaggers. It's not just a Delta oversight. IT departments everywhere don't do advanced disaster recovery planning -- and that's not good.

In our story on the calamity, "Delta outage is a wake-up call for IT execs, CEOs," industry observers delved into why what happened at the airline happened and how IT execs -- and chief execs -- can improve their business recovery operations and ensure they're ready to run when it counts.

Trump beats the odds; uncertainty reigns

Most pollsters did not think Donald Trump would win the Nov. 8 election against Hillary Clinton. Or at least they didn't see a high probability of it -- especially after lower polling numbers seemed to confirm that voters didn't want a president who taunted a fallen war hero's parents and boasted on a 2005 video about groping women.

The election results proved most pollsters wrong -- and, as shown in our story on the upset, "Presidential election predictions cast doubt on data analysis," raised questions about the limitations of data collection and analysis. If the information going in isn't right, the information coming out won't be, either.

A few weeks following the election, Trump invited leaders of the U.S. tech industry, whom he had baited during the campaign, to a "technology roundtable" in New York. The agenda, previously undisclosed, included talk of bringing foreign profits back to the U.S., creating more jobs and building better infrastructure.

Meanwhile, as reported in our post-election story, "Forget about Trump's tech policy -- it's the economy, CIOs," the impact of a Trump administration on CIOs' budgets will depend more on the industry, size and sector of their companies than on niceties exchanged at a meeting of A-listers in Trump Tower.

"In an uncertain environment you want to make sure you're really focused on your customer and you're looking for ways in which you understand and are sensitive and can respond to your customers and their own positions," said Forrester analyst Andrew Bartels, who post-election lowered his 2017 tech spending projections to 4.3% from 5.1%.

Cyberattacks go big, keep low profile

This is the year past breaches have come to haunt us. Take our story, "Dropbox hack and the password security conundrum," for instance. Hackers slipped into the cloud storage app back in 2012 and stole email addresses and passwords from more than 68 million accounts.

And then there's Yahoo. The internet company announced in September that account data of at least 500 million users was made away with two years ago. It was the biggest data theft ever of one company's network.

Outdoing itself, Yahoo said last week that another attack, this one in 2013, netted the user information of more than 1 billion users. As our story, "How is the billion-user Yahoo breach different from other email hacks?" reported, the event might not change consumers' online behavior, but it should give CIOs and C-suite peers deep pause about their security strategies.

"You can't make a cavalier decision about security," Forrester's Jeff Pollard said to Searchlight. "It needs to be thought out, it needs to be programmatic, it needs to be aligned with an organization's culture, its brand and what customers expect from them, because what we're seeing here is that a breach from 2013 can surface in 2016."

The Dropbox and Yahoo hacks underline the need for better authentication, or ways of determining that someone is who or what it says it is.

Responding to the Dropbox incident, VASCO Data Security vice president of communication John Gunn said organizations need to move away from single-password security.

Pollard said newer security technologies like two-factor authentication, which requires users to provide two forms of ID, and biometrics, which uses personal characteristics to identify people, need to become mainstream to better protect data from hackers. Eventually, customers themselves will demand that companies use such tools to guard the services they provide. 

More top tech news: Fire and iPhone 7

In September, Apple gave the world the iPhone 7, famously taking away the headphone jack and introducing wireless, à la carte AirPods.

Social media jeered and late-night talk shows parodied. And now, after some healthy orders for the phone, some reports say it might not be selling so well.

Regardless, said Forrester analyst Christopher Voce, CIOs should watch what Apple does. That's because their employees are also customers who like and buy Apple products. 

"CIOs would be best served by paying attention to what kind of technology their employees like and prefer to use," Voce said. "But most important, focusing on how mobile can help them, because the business impact is undeniable."

One competitor that had perhaps too vigilant an eye on Apple was Samsung, which rolled out its Galaxy Note 7, a high-end Android alternative to the iPhone in late summer. Just a few weeks later, sparks started flying -- a battery defect caused some phones to burst into flames, prompting a voluntary recall and then a mandatory one. The losses in revenue will no doubt be astronomical, with Credit Suisse estimating the company could lose $17 billion.

Our story, "Samsung Note 7 disaster a CIO parable about quality assurance," underscored a problem endemic to the cutthroat smartphone sector -- and, by extension, for enterprise technology: Quality testing often gets short shrift. Many observers thought Samsung rushed the phone through production -- without the proper quality testing -- to beat the iPhone 7 debut.

"I don't think there is anyone denying that there was a huge impact on their time schedule to get their greatest phone out prior -- hopefully a month, six weeks prior -- to the launch of the iPhone 7 to disrupt that," said Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research.

It's new, it's brilliant, it's untested

Breakthrough technologies like blockchain, quantum computing and driverless cars also made top tech news this year, and Searchlight swung their way to learn how long it might be before they're mainstream.

In April's "Hip to be square: Microsoft gets in early on blockchain technology," we reported on Microsoft's commitment to blockchain, the distributed database technology that forms the foundation of digital currency bitcoin. The software giant announced a partnership with startup R3 and the consortium of financial services companies it leads to test blockchain. The goal: to use the technology to reduce costs and virtually eliminate fraud in all kinds of transactions -- from real estate to healthcare to the stock market.

But lots of work is needed before blockchain goes prime time, said Forrester's Martha Bennett. That's why the collaboration of Microsoft and companies like Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bank of America is a promising development.

"The quicker it can be established what works, what doesn't work and what needs to be done to make it work, the better. To me, that's the key of this partnership," Bennett said.

Another company looking to others to develop a budding technology is IBM, which launched IBM Quantum Experience in May. It's the world's first cloud-based platform for quantum computing, which harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to process information.

IBM's platform is available to anyone with a desktop computer or mobile device and will allow for people to explore what can be done with quantum computing, which proponents say may lead to advancements in artificial intelligence and big data analysis.

At least one new idea was flowing through Pittsburgh in September, when ridesharing service Uber set loose cars without drivers on city streets, as covered in "Uber self-driving car event a red-letter day in the auto ecosystem": that autonomous autos would fundamentally change the way people get from here to there.

"If you think you've seen change, you ain't seen nothin' yet," Forrester analyst Frank Gillett told our reporter. "We've got decades of unraveling what it means and how it changes how we work and what we buy."

Next Steps

2016 stories show CIOs how to think like a startup

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