Users to tech department: What have you done for me lately?

At one firm, the tech department saves the day -- but finds the celebration is short lived

It often seems that no matter what technology you implement to make life better for computer users, the "baby birds" wonder what took so long and sit there with their mouths open asking for more.

About 10 years ago, I worked in the IT department of an architecture firm that had about 100 employees. When the firm moved into a new building, the office was set up so that most employees worked in one big open area, which meant that almost everyone heard about everything that took place in the workday -- the good and the bad.

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The employees worked in CAD applications, as well as graphic, technical, and financial software. Some of these programs did not have an autosave feature, which usually wasn't too much of a problem because the employees were aware of it, and our IT staff would remind them from time to time. However, when we first moved into the new building, we encountered a frustrating situation.

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For some reason, we would experience short, random electrical outages -- one-second blips -- that did nothing more than restart everyone's computers. When this happened, sometimes several times a month, you'd hear a lot of people saying "Arrgh!" all at the same time and a louder groan or a few choice words from those who had not recently saved.

While we tried to figure out the cause of the blips, we came up with a plan to keep the machines running.

The servers were all protected with UPSes, but most of the PCs only had surge protection with no battery. We got approval to invest $5,000 to purchase enough small, base-model UPSes to bridge the short outages for the workstations that were susceptible to the blips.

When the first blip hit after installing the batteries, we heard the usual groan of expected lost work roll through the open office area, and then cheers, clapping, whistling, whoops, and our praises being sung throughout the office. We looked up to see our IT group getting a standing ovation from the employees. It took your breath away!

A month later, after another blip, there was some clapping and happiness, but nothing like the initial response. Finally, on the third blip, several batteries failed, and people went back to complaining and groaning.

We kept getting the runaround when talking to the power company about the problem, but eventually the blips slowed down and occurred only three or four times per year. With any given power outage, some batteries failed and would be replaced. The people who had good batteries didn't think anything of the blips. But when someone's battery failed, they blamed IT for a bad battery, whereas before they'd blamed the power company for the bad service.

From my years working in IT, I've learned to enjoy the praises when they come because they're few and far between.

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