When running IT as a business, don't start at the service desk

Symantec serves as an example of how running IT as a business can get in the way of real work, such as handling parallel responsibilities

You've been told, over and over again (but not by me) to run IT like a business. This being Advice Line, here's some advice: If you decide to run IT like a business, be careful in choosing the business.

I use Norton Internet Security. For the most part, I like the product -- the product, mind you -- but so far as Symantec's support goes ...

[ Also on InfoWorld, Bob doesn't mince words: "Run IT as a business -- why that's a train wreck waiting to happen" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

Because my name and e-mail addresses are prominently displayed on my websites, I get a lot of spam, which led to the following: my final message to Symantec, sent on Sunday and reproduced here for your edification and amusement. You should be able to infer what preceded it.

I suspect I'm caught in an infinite loop.

I contacted Norton technical support to report a bug in your anti-spam product -- a specific type of message which causes Outlook 2007 to crash when I click the "This is Spam" button. (Simply deleting the message does not cause a crash, by the way, which is how I isolated the difficulty to your software.)

I hope you understand that when your software causes another piece of software to crash, the problem isn't user error or a problem with my configuration ... it's a bug. Tech support provided an e-mail address for my use. I mailed a copy of one of the offending messages to that e-mail address. I'm attaching a copy of that message as well.

Because I'm reporting a bug in your software, there is no logic in your asking me if my problem has been resolved. If my problem has been resolved, it's up to you to tell me that you've fixed it. When you have, I presume I'll pick up the fix in one of your regular software patches, without my having to take any further action.

I'll be delighted when you've found and fixed the problem. In the meantime, I ask only one thing -- please send me an e-mail that's phrased in such a way that I'm confident you understand that I was reporting a bug in your software and not a problem with my system.

One more suggestion: You might consider contacting whoever is responsible for your website to suggest they make it easier for your customers to report bugs. Given the process thus far, I'll have to think long and hard before I take the time and trouble to report another one.

- Bob

If you're responsible for any aspect of internal IT, there are a few lessons here:

  1. Don't assume user error: Sure, problems occur in the cockpit. But if you assume all problems are cockpit problems until the user proves otherwise, you'll end up turning a deaf ear to real bugs in your software. This was one of Toyota's mistakes.
  2. Read and listen for comprehension: I had to repeat myself at least three times before the techs I interacted with figured out I was trying to report a bug -- at least, I think they finally figured it out. I'm not sure, because none of the calls and correspondence that followed gave any indication Symantec understands I was reporting a bug.
  3. Make it easy for users to report bugs: Why wouldn't you? You want to fix them, don't you? More than any other aspect of this situation, I'm baffled as to why Symantec and every other software vendor doesn't have a Report Bugs Here tab on their websites. In the long run, this feature would pay for itself -- vendors would be able to fix bugs once instead of handling large numbers of tech support calls. I'd expect it to pay for itself for you, too.

It might appear that I'm picking on Symantec. I probably shouldn't. While the company's attempt at ensuring customer satisfaction was reflexive, inane, and entirely inappropriate to the actual situation, at least it made an attempt -- so should you, only yours should make actual sense with respect to the problems reported by your users.

- Bob

This story, "When running IT as a business, don't start at the service desk," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com.