Hand over your printers if you know what's good for you

In a corporate environment this incompetent, a tech pro takes desperate measures to satisfy basic hardware requests

It's hard work when you can't trust your own department. I would know -- when I was employed at one large company, the corporate IT office was known for its incompetence. It would lose orders, miss details, and generally act clueless, while leaving us in the lurch for essential equipment.

We learned to expect the worst and to make alternate plans, but we still had to run each and every IT request through this core group, much to the annoyance of those of us in the branch outposts. Because of their bumbling, even the most basic tasks -- such as ordering a new printer -- became frustrating, epic ordeals.

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In any other office, when your laser printer quits working, you buy a new one and expense it, right? Unfortunately, that wasn't how our system worked. Instead, I had to call the corporate office to request a new unit. I also held my breath, hoping they wouldn't find some way to mess up this simple request.

At first, it looked encouraging. The request was approved, and they sent it out right away. When it arrived, the box looked to be in perfect condition. Then I opened the package.

The printer inside the box looked like it had been crushed, then shredded. It quite honestly was nothing more than little bits of plastic and twisted bits of metal. None of it was usable. This was exactly what I hoped wouldn't happen.

I called the corporate IT office and chewed them out for sending me anything in that condition, and I demanded they send another printer. "Huh? What?" they replied. I told them I needed another printer right away. They promised to send a replacement, along with the shipping labels for returning both the original printer and the severely damaged replacement.

The printer parade

The second replacement printer arrived -- with a damaged paper tray, which was one of the same problems that plagued my original printer. Again, I called and explained the problem and why I couldn't use it. I had them send another printer.

At the same time, I'd thought through a way to get what I needed. When they asked about the return labels and why I hadn't sent the original printer and the first replacement, I replied, "I'm not sending anything back to you until I get a working printer, or enough pieces and parts to build one that works out of the junk you're sending. I am holding the printers hostage until I get one that works. And yes, you can put that in your report."

The next one arrived, and again it didn't work. They asked me to send the other printers back, but again I told them I was hanging onto them until I got what I needed. The next printer arrived, again not working properly but had some pieces that I could use. I did the same with the next specimen. For those keeping track at home, I was now in possession of five faulty printers.

But I was in business by that last unit. I'd finally amassed enough pieces to assemble a working printer out of the tangled messes they had shipped to me. Why didn't I ever receive a printer that didn't need any fixing? That's beyond me and sadly par for the course for this corporate office.

Get the message

Besides getting my department the printer we needed, my multipart plan had another effect on the company. As I held these rather expensive printers "hostage," people in the workflow chain started wondering what was happening and turned their attention to the laziness (these printers hadn't been properly tested and inspected before shipping) and lack of communication (the immediate supervisors were unaware of these failings) that fueled the problem. Supervisors and managers called me to ask what was going on, and they listened to my responses.

This incident rose to the top quickly, and the company took steps to improve operations in the corporate IT office. In addition, I implemented my own measures to make use of my newfound reputation for tenacity and doggedness. I asked one of the IT people to put up a sign that read, "When [location X] calls, just do what he says." They agreed to it, and it saved us all a lot of time and headaches in the future.

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This story, "Hand over your printers if you know what's good for you," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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