Tin can alley: The office that can't connect

Success comes back to bite an IT team when the execs decide to open up an office that's practically off the grid

Tin can alley: The office that can't connect

In the age of connected everything, it's easy for non-IT people to take for granted how an office comes together. Our company's managers definitely assume that either it will all work or IT will figure out a way. We have -- until recently.

I work for a manufacturing firm that has continually expanded over the years. The new locations are generally in industrial parks. Early on we only required a dial-up connection at the sites to hook up a modem, but as the Internet exploded and new software was acquired, our needs of course shifted from phone lines to high-speed Internet access.

Because these sites often were faraway, connectivity was very much a concern. I continually begged the COO to let our department check out a location first to see its viability before they purchased it, but my pleas fell on deaf ears, and we were usually informed only after a purchase had been made.

Work your magic

Our department was always able to establish a connection regardless of how many hoops we had to jump through. Sometimes we'd add a couple of telephone poles or pay to have a cable line extended. Management didn't care how we did it or how tough it was, as long as we got it done -- within budgetary reason, of course.

This became a problem because management assumed that we could always make things work, no matter how lousy a situation we were put in.

When the most recent acquisition popped up, it was very much a problem child. The location originally didn't need any access other than reception for the manager's cellphone and was already up and "running" before IT even had an address. I feared the worst as I looked up the location -- it was in a remote section of a state along an interstate highway with few neighboring businesses or residents. I checked for connectivity options, which varied from "terrible" to "worse."

I prayed that the manager's cellphone would be sufficient. It was ... for four months. Then came the request to add a computer "or two."

Limited choices

I convinced the "best" option (dish to a tower four miles away) to make a site survey and verify it could get a signal through. The results came back: There were too many trees (of course on the adjoining properties), and connectivity could only be accomplished by erecting a tower at least 50 feet high.

After reviewing construction costs, we went with one of the less desirable options, a cell Wi-Fi connection, and accepted that we'd have to deal with poor connectivity. Predictably, it wasn't long before even more problems cropped up.

Getting a landline installed is supposed to be a fairly normal operation, but not in this location. The carrier at one time had a copper line run into the home that had existed on the site. Since we were not going to use the house, our line would need to be installed in the large warehouse on the back of the property.

After the site survey, the carrier said it would need to extend the line in conduit from the last pole. It wouldn't have been a problem, except our property manager had already blacktopped the entire site. The carrier said it could install the new line but wanted written permission before digging in the freshly installed asphalt. I was unable to get management to agree, thus we are limping along with cellphones and a poor connection.

Sometimes being too good can lead to bad results that are not of your own doing. I can only hope they strike gold or oil nearby and a town springs up overnight so that high-speed Internet comes in, but I'm not holding my breath.