Hardware

Don't send in amateurs, part 2

The last time this client called, they were entering their data in two systems. Find out what happened when they pulled the plug on the legacy system.


In "Don't send an amateur to do a professional's job," I told you about a consulting client who let an unqualified person convert a legacy database application to a new platform. I thought you'd be interested in hearing what happened when the legacy system was turned off for good.

An end user's worst nightmare
My role in this story is that of the consultant who helped keep the legacy database system alive and who offered a Windows-based upgrade. Unfortunately, the CEO awarded the project to his marketing person, who put in a Macintosh network and began creating the new application in FileMaker Pro.

When I first told you about this debacle, the data entry clerks were entering everything twice—once in the legacy database and again in the Macintosh-based system. The users were getting restless, because the in-house developer repeatedly let deadlines slip.
After the first article ran on TechRepublic, a consultant who specializes in FileMaker Pro development pinged me for picking on Macintosh. I named the new platform just for the sake of the record. I have no problems with Macintosh-based systems, as long as they work.
A few weeks after I reported this story to you, I was basically put out of the loop. The marketing person persuaded the CEO to pull the plug on the legacy system permanently.

The users were horrified because, in their estimation, the Macintosh system was incomplete and buggy. The marketing person thought that shutting down the legacy system would force the users to pay more attention to the Macintosh system. (The users claimed the new software didn't work; the developer told the CEO that the users hadn't bothered to learn how to use it correctly.)

The e-mail you hate to get
Several months passed before I heard from one of the end users who seemed to need a sympathetic ear for the depressing news:
  • Dozens of core functions from the legacy system still haven't been delivered in the new system. "[The marketing person] tells us we don't need those features, but we do."
  • "He [the CEO] doesn't even know how to use the new program." The data entry clerks are still pulling extra duty because they have to double-check everything the CEO prints, and "we have to redo most of it."
  • "He [the marketing person] isn't speaking to any of us because we've pointed out the problems with the software, and as far as we can tell, he isn't even working on it anymore, either."

Be ready to pick up the pieces
I hated to hear that news because I'm completely powerless to help. I gave it my best shot when I pitched my ideas for upgrading the system. However, as TechRepublic member minstrelmike wrote when he posted a comment on the first column on this topic: "Hiring good consultants won't help if you don't take their advice."

So, I stand ready and waiting. If the CEO eventually gives up on the Macintosh system, I hope I'll be the first person he calls.

Meanwhile, here's another quick story about the consequences of sending an amateur to do a professional's job. Recently, I got a call from a client who hadn't given me an hour of billable work in over a year. Over the objections of the business manager, the CEO hired as the office manager in a regional office a person who had no computer skills whatsoever. "She'll be great with customers, and she can learn the computer," the CEO reasoned. When I spoke with the person who spent a week trying to train the new hire, the story was "She [the new hire] never caught on."

They called me for tech support to restore a database. This nontechnical manager had managed to trash the database application and the computer's hard drive—both on the day before she resigned.

I enjoyed cashing the check for the support call, but I'm afraid the CEO in this story still hasn't learned his lesson. If you've had to clean up the mistakes made by an IT amateur, please post a comment below or drop us a note.
What's the IT prime directive? How do you rein in maverick end users? You'll find the answers to those questions and more in this collection of View from Ground Zero columns.
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