The UK’s AI minister and undersecretary of state at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology has today (20 March) urged companies to ramp up their cybersecurity measures, the same week that saw IT outages plague Greggs, McDonald’s, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Jonathan Berry, responsible for overseeing the UK government’s AI plan and cybersecurity, said organisations big and small need to “step up” in response to the “host of challenges and risks” the UK is facing in the cybersecurity sector. 

According to the latest Government figures, 75% of medium and large businesses in the UK experienced some form of cyber security incident in the last year, along with 79% of high-income charities.

On the same day as Berry’s statement, UK bakery giant Greggs suffered a major IT outage, which forced many of its stores around Britain to temporarily close. 

A statement from the bakery chain said: “We are currently experiencing issues accepting payments in our shops. We are working to resolve this as soon as possible.”

The IT outage at Greggs followed McDonald’s, Tesco and Sainsbury’s suffering similar issues across their stores on Friday (15 March) and Saturday (16 March).

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Although is not currently clear what caused the IT glitch at Greggs, the four incidents have highlighted how disruptive payment and IT failures can be to retail businesses.

McDonald’s blamed the issue on a third-party configuration change, while Sainsbury’s and Tesco both blamed a software update configuration issue. The three companies confirmed the outages were not related to one another.

Max Watson, retail technology lead at Mindera, told Verdict that the four outages highlighted the need for a “more robust approach to digital transformation from retailers, especially in the payments space”.

“With the UK edging towards a more cashless society where card payments are the norm, avoiding this type of disruption should be a key focus of companies when upgrading technological infrastructures, else they risk frustrating and even losing customers,” Watson said. 

Paul Cooper, head of IT at UK card payment solution company takepayments, echoed the sentiment and said the flurry of outages highlighted how businesses needed to “test their system updates thoroughly and keep any updates local”.

“Issues with payment systems can damage both a business’s profits and reputation,” Cooper said.