When a user 'helps' IT set up a new system

A tech-savvy employee volunteers to transfer data to his brand new company laptop. You can guess what happens next

During the years I've been in IT, I've encountered quite a few instances where users think they understand how to handle their computer data. But more often than not, they need a little guidance.  

In the days of Windows 98 and before the advent of imaging software at our company, preparing a desktop took an hour and a half and laptops took three hours. You had to install the operating system, do the Windows updates, reboot, then install the applications, do any reboots that were necessary, then install the antivirus client. Laptops went to specialized users, so they had more applications than the average desktop user.

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Then, when the machine was ready, there was the touchy issue of data transfer from one device to another.

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"Nick" was a longtime employee of the company and reasonably computer savvy -- or so I thought. When the time came for him to get a new laptop to replace his old, lousy one, I was a happy fellow. No more patching up his old clunker. He told me, "Don't worry about backing my stuff up and transferring it to the new machine -- I'll take care of it."

On the surface, this sounded like a dream setup, but it should have been a red flag.

After the customary three-hour setup, I handed the laptop over to Nick. About an hour later, he called me and said, "I think I blew something up. Come and see me."

Sheepishly, he told me what he had done. Since the company didn't have a very good server-side backup solution, months before Nick had run out and bought a tape drive to back up his data. Smart. He then told me that he backed his machine up on a regular basis. Smart -- sort of. I saw that he was backing up the whole machine on his tape drive, not just mail, documents, and Web bookmarks.

What he had done was take a Brand X laptop that was set up with all the updates and applications in place and then smashed the entire old Brand W hard drive contents over the new hard drive's data. It just barely booted into Windows 98.

It took me two more hours to get the laptop functional again.

I learned quite a lot from this incident about ways to involve the users in data transfers while helping them understand what to expect.

One, take control of the user's data transfer experience. If you ask them, "What do you need to back up?" the well-meaning, but uninformative, answer would often come back, "Everything!" I learned to rephrase the question by explaining, "Programs are cheap, mail and documents are expensive," then identifying what they used for mail, where they kept their documents, and then moving data accordingly.

Two, make it clear what I am going to transfer: documents and mail, yes; music, no.

As time went on, experiences such as this one helped pave the way for some positive changes to make the IT staff's life a little easier at our company. Management refused to buy larger servers or entertain the idea of off-site storage, but we requested and received imaging software. Also, easy-to-use, portable backup drives became standard issues with laptop users and power desktop users -- and we set them up to back up selected folders. Machine preparation and recovery time was, thankfully, cut in half.

This story "When a user 'helps' IT set up a new system," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com.

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