Enterprise Software

IT Consultant Journal: Newsgroups and vendors can resolve problems

IT consultants have two tools at hand to help resolve a client's problems: product vendors and newsgroups. In this IT Consultant Journal entry, a consultant uses both to resolve problems with a CRM software installation.

Leon Tribe is a freelance CRM consultant in Australia. He recently completed a contract involving a CRM system and kept notes on the problems he faced and how he resolved them. This is another article in an occasional series in which he will explain his work for the client.

The project
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu (DTT) was asked to improve a customer relationship management (CRM) system’s response time. The client and vendor were eager to resolve the system’s performance problems to produce better user acceptance of the system. My role was to be on-site, resolve all major issues, and foster our relationship with the client. While concentrating on improving the system’s response time, other issues arose and were resolved. Here is one of them.

The obstacle: Problems with the SOE
Although the CRM system had been rolled out through the main office, it was not yet implemented in remote offices. The plan had been to bed the system down and then migrate the other offices as a second phase to the project. The problems with the system response time—which I discussed in my first article—had delayed the second phase, and pressure was mounting to accelerate the process. With their reputations on the line, the system sponsors and vendors wanted a resolution.

To implement the system in the remote offices, we decided to incorporate the software into the standard operating environment (SOE) for the local networks. While the main office used Windows 95 as the standard operating system, the first remote office on the phase-two list used Windows NT, so a new machine would have to be installed from scratch and an image of this machine created. This image would then be loaded on the desktops at the remote office.

To complicate matters slightly for me, while I was based out of the call-center office, the image was being created on the other side of town where the technicians were based.

Creating the SOE
Here is how the SOE dramas were resolved during the week.

Tuesday, 12:00 to 2:30 P.M.: Find the installation manual
I received a call from Matthew, the technician responsible for the creation of the SOE image. He asked whether the call-center office had standard documentation on installing the software and, if so, could I e-mail it. Unfortunately, the call-center office only had a hard-copy manual. I asked him to give me 30 minutes to see what I could do.

I have a good rapport with the vendor, so I immediately called the vendor support line and asked if they had an electronic version of the installation manual or, even better, a scaled-down version for technicians.

As it turned out, they had a “one-page special” for NT installations. I gave them Matthew’s e-mail address, and they agreed to e-mail it immediately.

I called Matthew back to let him know that he could expect something from the vendor within a few minutes. He thanked me profusely, and I notched it up as a job well done.

Wednesday, 11:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.: Installation problems
I received another call from Matthew. Despite the simplified guide, he was still having trouble getting the system fully installed. We worked through it slowly.

The first problem was that the local client service, although installed, was not running. I walked him through starting it up and setting it to automatically run on startup and we moved on. The second hurdle was the settings for the client service. We went through them, ensuring the client was pointed to the right location for the database and that the login and password information was set correctly. We tested the connection and everything was resolved. He continued, confident he could finish the job.

Wednesday, 2:30 to 4:30 P.M.: Reinstallation?
Matthew called me again. Whenever he started the program, it seemed fine, loading as it should, but then it reached a certain point and froze. The only way to kill it was with Task Manager. I had seen this before with NT, and we tried my solution over the phone.

The installation program for the software has a bad habit of sometimes corrupting Internet Explorer (IE) and, in turn, freezing itself up. Fortunately, the installation CD comes with a clean copy of Explorer, so we installed that. Still no luck.

Matthew wanted to bring me on-site, so I approached the call-center management and explained the situation. After some interdepartmental discussion on internal billing, it was agreed that I would go on-site on Friday.

Friday, 9:30 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.: Frustration
I spent the morning on-site. Matthew and I tried everything, with no luck. First, we uninstalled and reinstalled IE, only to get the same behavior as before. Thinking there might be a corruption with the CRM software, I completely reinstalled this, but it didn’t resolve the problem. I deleted and reset the database connection, to no avail. My last option was to try and connect to a different database to see if the corruption was with the data, but even using the demo database from the installation discs, the program still froze. I was stumped.

Pulling out my ace, I called the vendor support crew to see if there was anything in the database about this behavior. There was, but it was recorded as being resolved by reinstalling IE. As I had already tried this, I thanked them and hung up. I told Matthew I would look into it on Monday to see if I could sort out a solution.

Monday, 9:30 to 11:00 A.M.: Checking the newsgroups
The weekend break had restored my optimism toward finding an answer to the curious behavior of the software. I tried the newsgroups set up by the software vendor to discuss business opportunities, problems with the software, vendor announcements, and the like. I hoped to gather wisdom from other people’s struggles and solutions and maintain my reputation of being “the guru.”

I searched and struck gold: Although some implementers had fixed the problem by reinstalling Explorer, others had to ensure that Windows Messaging had been turned on as part of the Windows installation. I found instructions on how to activate this and fix the problem I was having.

I gave Matthew a call and ran him through the process of turning Windows Messaging on. He tried it, and everything worked without locking up.

Newsgroups new to you?
I find that newsgroups are rich sources of solutions. Here’s more information about how to get the most from them and a list of some that I find to be very handy.

 

Bottom line
When solving problems, give yourself as much ammunition as possible. In this case, a good relationship with the vendor helped get me closer to a resolution. The rest was solved by information from newsgroups. If, as a consultant, you find yourself working with a set of key technologies, investigate whether they have newsgroups. You may find that others have already discovered the solutions you seek.
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