Sure, change providers -- but please let IT know

When the phones go down at a remote office, IT comes to the rescue, only to discover the shoddy habits of the local team

telephones antiques vintage
Credit: Stephen Lawson

If there’s one thing I wish users and managers would pay attention to, it’s communicating with the IT department -- let us know when they're having problems or shifting tech/business initiatives or changing vendors. Every little bit helps.

I work for a large privately owned firm with facilities in several states. Our main operation facilities are wholesale distribution yards. The IT, AR, AP, and payroll services are headquartered in a central office where the corporation began, although the local managers are given quite a bit of freedom to run their local office as they wish.

One day I was tasked with coordinating the switching of Internet and phone services at an out-of-state office that moved about 15 miles into a much larger location. This meant we had to switch vendors for both services, and they were to be fully functional by the time the PCs and servers arrived there.

I cancelled the service to correspond with the closing of that office and the opening at the new location. I also provided for call forwarding from the old number to assure a smooth transition to the new site.

At the time (late 2004), there was only one option for service at this new location, but luckily Telecom 1 provided the necessary speed for us to conduct business. Contracts were signed, and account logins and passwords created.

A smooth switch

The location opened and operations were smooth for the first six months that I monitored it. Our department was out of the picture unless a problem came up, as the owners preferred a laissez-faire attitude with their remote managers.

Fast-forward 10 years, and I got an email from a salesman at that location stating that their phones were not working. Responding to this vague complaint, I called the location and the phone rang about six times (abnormal for a sales location). I was nearly ready to hang up when a different salesperson answered the phone.

I asked about the problem with the phones, thinking they must be working since someone answered. I was told that some customers couldn’t call in and had to use the sales reps’ cellphone numbers. No one knew where the customers were calling from, so I couldn’t narrow it down to an area code. I was told not to worry, as they had already placed a call to phone company Telecom 3 for a service call.

Surprised, I asked why they called them, as our service was with Telecom 1.

I was told that Telecom 3 had bought out phone company Telecom 2 last year. I was quite confused by this point, but the salesman had no idea about Telecom 1. I again said that we had no contract with Telecom 2 to my knowledge. The salesman, in turn, claimed no knowledge as to how or when any switches were made.

Unraveling a telecom mystery

I dug through my contracts for that location and found the cancellation order for when we moved and the new service order for Telecom 1 to begin service at the site in 2004, but nothing else.

Next, I opened the accounting package for the office and browsed the vendor file to try to track down the transition. It appeared the office was with Telecom 1 for seven years, then switched to Telecom 2 -- another case of a local manager steering the boat without HQ input. Then in 2014, they again switched -- this time to Telecom 3 and again without notifying HQ.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with saving the company a few bucks by switching vendors. My problem is maintaining logins and passwords for service or billing issues. It goes without saying that these, even though created in the last six months, had never been recorded or passed along.

I had no listing for any service contact numbers, either. The current phone company had an obscure website that was not intuitive from its name. The main administrative assistant had been paying whatever bills came in, and our accounting apparently was fine as long as the location was generating income.

After several hours I finally had copies of a current bill and had established logins and tracking for the new vendor -- and they got the phone problem fixed.

Running a lean IT department across multiple industries in multiple states is never good and holes will eventually pop up. I would also caution tech pros to pay closer attention to any location where the manager also receives sales commission based on the P&L statement. Actions become profit-driven, and details usually suffer.