Encourage IT consulting clients to call before acting

Susan Harkins shares a story in which a fellow IT consultant's client reinstalled Windows Vista and lost everything on the system. She details how easy it would have been to just reset the password.


A colleague recently fell right between that proverbial rock and a hard place. He didn't do anything wrong, but he knew the client made a bad decision.

His IT consulting client had a lone wolf Windows Vista system with an undocumented password. The client knew just enough to reinstall the operating system and, in the process, lose everything on the system. My friend learned about the adventure after the fact.

Here is what's on the books: If the Vista system is on a network, the network administrator can reset passwords according to policy. Local user accounts are different; you need a password reset disk to reset user passwords. When you create the password, you should also save this information to external memory (most likely a USB flash drive), as follows:

  1. Go to Start | Control Panel.
  2. Click User Accounts and Family Safety.
  3. Select User Accounts.
  4. In the left pane, click Create A Password Reset Disk and respond to each prompt appropriately.

Without a reset disk, you can use the system's administrator account to log on (if the user and administrator accounts aren't the same) and reset the password as follows:

  1. Log on to the administrator account and click Start.
  2. Search on lusrmgr.msc and confirm or enter the administrative password.
  3. Double-click Local Users And Groups.
  4. Click Users and right-click the account that needs resetting.
  5. Click Set Password.
  6. Enter and confirm the new password.

(Note: This process isn't supported by Windows Vista Starter, Windows Vista Home Basic, or Windows Vista Home Premium, but it's not likely that the business machines you support run on one of those.)

The user will lose e-mail and encrypted files but that beats the alternative -- reinstalling the operating system.

If the user account and the administrator account are one in the same (as was the case in this story) and there's no reset disk, a reinstall is the next step. The client had no reset disk, and the person who had once known the password was long gone. Now creating the reset disk is a no-nonsense chore, but this system wasn't even on the consultant's radar. The client, not knowing any better, reinstalled and started over.

My friend bore no responsibility, but he did regret what happened because the reinstall was unnecessary. He could've gotten around the missing password, but the client didn't know that.

The issue isn't really the lost data, but that the client didn't call for guidance. While the incident seems small in the overall scheme of things, it has given me something to think about. Have you ever been in a situation similar to my friend?

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Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.


Many of my clients have systems that I have either built, or re-installed for them at some point. When I do this, in the system information, I always insert my business contact information so they can find it easily to contact me for service, even if they can't find my business card. I also send reminders about basic maintenance being due, along with asking if they have any questions or concerns for me, on a regular basis. During my recent site upgrade, I've also included a q & a section, where they can ask questions and get advice for free. I find that this regular contact with my clients helps to head off any such situations, as it keeps me fresh in their minds, and they know they can contact me any time by phone or email to get advice, before they act on a problem. Sometimes it's just a simple walk-thru by phone or email, which benefits them by avoiding a service call, which always makes them happy, and makes them less reluctant to call, because they know I'll only charge if it's a problem I have to go on-site for.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

In software development I run into it all the time. While I always try to adequately document what I send to a client, there are times when they just don't understand what's going on in a given module. When they attempt to add some functionality using that limited understanding without checking with me first, it ends up either duplicating effort or breaking something. Note to user: unless you're certain you understand all your options, contact me before doing anything drastic.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Your phone time is free? I charge for mine, unless I called them for my own reasons.

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