A call center in crisis and the bureaucracy that botched it

In this IT tale, the tech team discovers why their request for monitors was denied -- and where the money really went

During my years of working in IT, I've seen that too many times tech decisions are made by individuals lacking any common sense or knowledge of the situation. As a result, many of these decisions are the wrong ones.

I used to work as a project manager for a South American government agency, and  I was in charge of programming. We had some tasks related to law enforcement and counterterrorism, which was an interesting position, but as was typical because it was a poor country, our biggest obstacle by far was lack of resources.

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For a while, the workstations in our call center had been causing us problems. Most of the equipment was pretty antiquated, and we kept fixing the problems, but one by one the monitors or PCs or phones would finally quit working -- beyond repair. Our call center was a major part of our operation, so it was imperative we keep it up and running, but none of the managers or government officers had given us any more resources to fix the problem, in spite of repeated pleas. We had even boiled our request down to our most desparate need: Monitors. Request denied.

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One day, the problem finally came to a crisis point: All but one of the remaining monitors fizzled out, which meant that the call center was down to only one complete workstation. The call center traffic was rising and we couldn't keep up, so decided to take it offline temporarily out of respect to users.

We worked up the chain of command again, armed with reports and data and a plea for monitors. We kept getting passed around until we were sent to a top government agent. However, she could not meet us because she "was engaged in important technological matters." We hoped that the office gossip about the "important technological matter" wasn't true: that she was buying bunch of TV sets for her and other top-ranking officers for watching an upcoming soccer match in the office.

We put our call center back online and kept trying to reach her or anybody else but were told to come back later. In the meantime, our call center limped along, mainly because for the night shift we'd borrow monitors from the desks of those in other departments who worked the daily shift.

This continued for months. One day I discovered in a warehouse at least 10 new monitors. Puzzled, I asked around to find out where they'd come from. To my horror, I discovered that these were the infamous TV "sets" bought for watching the soccer match. The officer had bought monitors -- not TV sets -- and couldn't figure out how to set them up to watch the soccer match and had discarded them.

The new monitors stayed in the warehouse. We weren't allowed to touch them. Finally, the government agent was fired (for other good reasons). We asked her replacement if we could use the monitors and explained the reason. To our sorrow, the new agent could not understand the difference between a monitor or a TV set -- in spite of our explanations. Finally she said, "OK gentlemen, I'll be generous. You can use the TVs for the computers because there is no big soccer tournament in sight this year."

Eight months after that fateful day when our call center had to be taken offline, we got monitors. Both of these government officers made decisions regarding over $200 million a year. Who needs sitcoms!

Being incompetent is not a felony -- it's just a shame.

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This story, "A call center in crisis and the bureaucracy that botched it," was originally published at InfoWorld.com.

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