Danger, danger! Newbies at work!

An IT pro finds that a lack of employee computer experience, combined with no data backup plan, invites disaster

I spent several years working for a medical device company. Our customers were durable medical equipment (DME) retailers, the kind of place to buy a bedpan or a wheelchair. Many of them had severe inventory problems, so our company developed and sold inventory software tailor-made to their needs. My job was to install the software, show customers how to use it, and provide telephone tech support.

The system tracked what equipment was given to which patients, provided treatment and billing information because it recorded who got what device settings (essentially a prescription), and noted how much to bill the patient or their insurer.

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It worked well enough, but there were several challenges. First, if a shop had any IT personnel, they were network administrators who kept the LAN and Internet access working. The users were expected to administer their own PCs: operating system updates, software installations and upgrades, and backups.

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Second, most of these users were lacking in computer skills and had not received adequate training, so would freeze up when asked to perform basic administration tasks. For example, they knew how to find the My Documents folder but were unaware that a PC had a C: drive.

And third, most of the company executives didn't understand the importance of backups. Despite good intentions, the backups for any of their company data, not just our system, often didn't get made.

One day I got a call from a newbie user who wanted to create a second database to track the inventory of a different business that used the same office computers. I sent her a nearly blank database via email, with just a few test records.

When it arrived, she called me to walk her through the process of setting it up. Due to the software's requirements, both database files, the old (production) one and the new (nearly empty) one, had the same filename.

I told her how to navigate to the new file and asked her to confirm that the right folder name was in the file browser window. She brought up the inventory software on the new file. I walked her through deleting the few test records of bogus patients and equipment, names such as "Fred First and Sally Second."

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