Shhh! Don't tell IT how we send documents around here

Ignoring easier ways to share data, a tech-challenged boss and manager devise an expensive and unnecessary workaround

Here's a good rule to go by: Don't ever underestimate users' tech experience. People will go to extraordinary lengths to disguise their lack of tech understanding, and when two or more of these goofballs work together, all bets are off. You're better served when you expect to be surprised.

This tip comes in handy at our company, which produces hardware that requires testing before it's sent to customer sites. When we get behind on this testing, we contract the job to another company. We provide the computer equipment, the analysis software, the training, and the know-how. The second company provides the warehouse and the staff.

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For one of these jobs, we contracted a company out of Texas (we're way up north). I sent six notebooks to the Lone Star State to use for testing; a testing supervisor from our company also made the trip. We were on our way.

A bad omen

This testing supervisor definitely wasn't celebrated for her technical know-how. If the computer screen even flashes, she completely freezes up and panics. Perhaps she was the only one willing to be away from home for a few months. But why she was chosen to manage this project is beyond me -- I just provide the computer equipment.

Nevertheless, she was assigned to oversee a crew of temporary workers who would simply plug in our hardware devices to the notebooks we sent and run the analysis software. Then they would ship the hardware that passed the tests on to the customers.

All of the notebooks had VPN capability back to our building and had to be connected to us to do the analysis. Our IT department had full remote capability to all the machines should the need arise, including right down to the file system. We could of course load software and see their screen, and they could use the VPN back to the home office should they need to copy data back and forth.

Say what again?

This particular round, the testing went on for about four or five months without a hitch. One day, I was in the office of the testing supervisor's boss and noticed a peculiar item on his desk: a notebook from the testing facility in Texas.

I pointed it out and asked, "What's going on with that -- why is the machine here"? The "uh oh" look passed over his face. I guess he didn't want the IT department to know, but it was too late -- and we soon got the story out of him.

Among the testing supervisor's responsibilities, she keeps track of is the hardware's pass/fail status and each item's serial number on a simple spreadsheet. Her boss needed the spreadsheet information, but neither of them knew how to cut and paste the document in a way that would allow her boss to access it. Instead, she overnighted the notebook to him. Once he'd copied the 50KB file, he planned to send it back to her, so they could continue using the machine for testing.

Apparently, neither of them realized she could have attached the spreadsheet to her email and sent it over the network. They could've also notified us, and we would've simply accessed the machine and pulled the file for him in a matter of seconds. Instead, thanks to their combined ineptitude, that $1,000 notebook became the company's largest and most expensive flash drive.

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