Collaboration

Growing dependency on IT

With the passing of each year, it seems that companies are becoming more reliant on their Information Technology infrastructure. Consider how far we've come in a relatively short amount of time, and what kind of additional challenges are placed on the people who support IT.

With the passing of each year, it seems that companies are becoming more reliant on their Information Technology infrastructure. Consider how far we've come in a relatively short amount of time and what kind of additional challenges are placed on the people who support IT.

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When I started supporting users of Information Technology, there was always another alternative should something go awry. Today, however, it seems that the alternatives have all but slipped away. At one time, we could get along fine without technology; today, we can't get by without it. For users of technology, it's their production that's affected. For those of us who support them, it means a whole lot more.

Computers: This is where it all started, isn't it? Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but I often consider how much it's changed my industry (the building design industry). Only twenty years ago, upward of 95 to 100 percent of the design professionals either didn't use a computer or, at the very least, weren't that dependent on one. Anything done by way of computer could have easily been done by hand (and sometimes easier). Not anymore.

As time went by, the reliance on computers gradually became greater. It used to be that if someone's computer failed, the user could do without it for some period of time - even a few days without one was acceptable. But the days gave way to hours, and then the hours eventually became minutes. Today, I keep extra computers loaded and ready to go, fully configured with everything a user needs so I can provide a quick replacement. I'm waiting for the day someone tells me that he or she needs it faster than the time it takes for me to make the swap.

Networks: How many people remember the day you first connected two computers together? I used a device called a null modem and crossover cable, software called ..... dang, I forgot what it was called (but I'll bet someone will remind me!), and I had to figure out something about a handshake. Then came my DOS version of Lantastic. Then came Windows Server. Today, we have intranets and Internets. The Internet: Who among us cut his or her Internet teeth on something called a BBS (Bulletin Board System)? And I'm sure there will be some really old-timers (nothing disparaging intended, because in some ways I consider myself one) who recall the days of the Internet that even preceded the Bulletin Board days. CompuServe is one of the oldest on-line services, and it was the first one I used. Baud rates and modems gave way to Broadband and satellites. And speaking of something that's gone from a novelty to a necessity, I can't image providing user support without the Internet. (That's probably a subject worthy of a blog piece in and of itself. Stay tuned -- it just found its way onto my list.) E-mail: This is, I believe, the one thing (a subset of the Internet, of course) on which all my users are most dependent. Without it, many of them are literally dead in the water. Phone calls between our engineers and clients were once the only means of communication; today it seems that e-mail is king. We've been transferring data files for a long time, but I can't recall the last time we had to call an overnight delivery service to ship a CD -- or floppy disks.

File attachments to e-mails, FTP sites, and project collaboration sites are not only preferred, but they're absolutely necessary. Just when I get used to one project collaboration site, a different one becomes the new flavor of the day for a different client, and we have yet another means of file transfer to get used to. Why don't they all use the same one, or why don't they all work the same way, I was recently asked? I couldn't decide if Because or I don't know was the best answer. (I used both -- Well, it's because, I just don't know!)

A plethora of devices: Wireless devices, mobile devices, PDAs, hand-helds, digital cameras, flash drives, etc. There's always something new to learn about and to integrate into our business model. Back in the day, however, I was usually the first one to hear about a new technology; I would evaluate it, and I would be the one to determine the need. Today, it's just as likely one of my users will introduce something new to me -- sometimes welcome, sometimes not. As such, not only do I have to be aware of how to use the new technology but sometimes how to guard against it. Printers, plotters, copiers, and scanners: It used to be that the buck of support for the dreaded copy machines could always be passed on to someone else. This was usually a guy with the personality of a wet rag. He never smiled, was always short with his answers, and, in general, simply looked like the most miserable guy on the planet. But I could always understand why he was like that -- after all, he supported copy machines. I was always content with keeping them outside the realm of something I supported. But not anymore.

We don't have just a copy machine anymore. It copies, it scans, it faxes, it e-mails, it networks, and it seemingly does everything under the sun. I was just waiting for the salesman to tell me it slices and dices. (It probably does, but I was afraid to ask.) With more functionality and with more networking interfaces, it's become yet another cog in the wheel that makes our business go 'round. I don't maintain the inner mechanics of the thing, mind you, but out of the seemingly 1,001 things it can do, I have to learn which ones will facilitate our business, how to best configure them, and, over time, how to teach it to all the users. Gone are the days of a couple of scanners scattered throughout the office -- you know, the kind that just got replaced when something didn't work right.

Even the copy machine technician has changed. It used to always be a guy -- like the one I described above. But now they're field engineers, not technicians, and it's just as likely to be a woman as a man. While one person used to service all aspects of the thing, today we might see one person service the hardware, and another support the software.

How far we have come: The explosion in our dependency on technology really came to light recently (and how much it's all changed), when I was asked by a young and new drafting technician about the days of making blueprints. He was amazed to hear me tell him about hand drawing on both sides of a sheet of Mylar and about how the old blueprint machines worked, and so on. I learned about drafting technology with a T-Square, some triangles, and a drawing board. He's learned everything he knows by way of a keyboard.

Computer technology has accommodated making design changes up until the last minute -- and even beyond the last minute. And plotters that, at one time, would take hours to produce one drawing sheet (if the ink didn't dry up, that is), gave way to wide format, high-speed printers capable of producing hundreds of sheets in mere minutes.

How it's changed our support role: How much our support role has changed is all relative, I suppose. Like I said earlier, in many ways I'm an old-timer; but compared to others, I jumped on the technology express well after it left the station. Maybe the ensuing discussion will result in some strolls down memory lane, or perhaps it will generate some new ideas about providing support today compared to yesterday.
46 comments
ddouglas
ddouglas

We all (the "newer" generation) forgot how to use a telephone to conduct business when all else is down.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

[i]At one time, we could get along fine without technology; today, we can't get by without it.[/i] Each new tool of convenience we have invented, has led to a new dependency. We're at the point now, that should our technology - consisting of multiple tools of convenience - fail for some reason, we're likely to be pretty screwed as a species. We don't know enough on an immediate, personal, basis anymore to be able to survive without our conveniences. The immediate and personal basis being all we would have should technology fail us. Big/ger picture stuff that tends to drive me up a wall. etu

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

But dependancy started from the Jacquard loom. A key driver in successful manufacturing (at least in the west) has always been productivity per man. IT let you both reduce manning, and (given decent kit) improve quality and or quantity). Yes IT technology has extended our reach, but it's basically done it by improving our grasp. Growing dependancy in the main, is simply realising technology is cheaper than people, that's it. I don't know who was unaware of this equation, perhaps I need to interact with a few more newly discovered amazonian tribesmen. Hmmm, do they have email.....

reisen55
reisen55

And this is a power that frightens me. I sometimes advise my clients to consider the implications of scrapping all of the infrastructure and go back to 1980 or so and those armies of IBM SELECTRICS and the MAG CARD typewriters. See how long their business would stay running!!! Disaster. This is a terrible power to possess and it takes skilled, qualified, ethical people to run and manage these systems with care and precision. AND YET we continue to outsource support far and wide away from our country, putting secure data AT CONSIDERABLE RISK in the hands of third world countries and staffers who have no vested interest in the client, only a vested interest in their job and the outsourced contract. This power is being squandered. How many tales do we hear annually of ACS staffers losing customer data? Or CSC or ACN? How many bad calls does it take to a helpdesk in Bangalore to wise up management in this country to realize OUTSOURCING DOES NOT WORK!!! And that which is being outsourced is crucial, central power of a business. Sad really.

chris-b
chris-b

We had our first "network" with a crossover cable as well - the software was called LapLink. It was primitive, but sure beat "sneakernet" for getting a file from one drive to another.

TechRepublic
TechRepublic

I think the more interesting concept is where our dependiecies are decreasing... When I started out as a road-warrior in 1994, there was barely an internet, I had a Powerbook with probably 4MB of RAM which we used to upload reports to a BBS (really), cell phones were still brick-sized, and managers had secretaries. Look at what I used to depend on: Pay phones - when on a road trip, I would have to stop and check my voice mail every two hours (max) to make sure there are not any pressing issues with any of my clients. Voice mail - Cenrtralized voicemail that is not attached to my cell service - never use it anymore. Never check it, never want to. My cell voicemail is a different matter. Paper Maps - First order of business for any road warrior, join AAA and visit the office and obtain one of every map in your territory. Then cross reference it against your address book and find and mark all of your customers. Oh, and they don't talk to you while you are driving either... Phone Books - Seriously, if you didn't have a customer's information, you had to go to one of these things and look it up. Where did you find such things? Libraries - you could go to the library and find the phone books for your entire territory. Secretaries - for the technology impared, these were the people that typed your memos, letters, and printed out your email so you could read it. Now the technology impared just fake it and the secretaries are gone, along with real letters, etc. Fax machines - Seriously, they didn't always land right in your email inbox. In fact, they usually were printed on these curly, tissue-thin pages that faded in three months. That's why your secretary (see above) always copied them onto regular paper before giving them to you. Troubleshooting/Listening Skills - Once upon a time, working in the technical field was like being a veterenarian - the patient could tell you there is a problem, but not much else. You had to actually ask good questions in order to get down to the root of the problem. There really isn't much need to listen to your customer's problems and develop a solution anymore. You can just remote desktop into their computer and straighten out what is not working. Okay... that should get people started. What are you no long dependent on? Chris in Snellville "Where everybody's somebody..."

Da Saint
Da Saint

I started out on punch card equipment which took all day on room sized equipment to do what I can nowadays in seconds on a PDA or Smartphone. I really feel old.

dand76
dand76

Ahhh... memory lane. I remember the first hard drive I bought for a server cost $4000 and it was a whopping 650mb. Ever install Novell Netware from a gazillion 5 1/4 floppies? How about the daisy chained coax network cable where a break in the cable would take the entire network segment down (thanks Mr. Janitor). Remember when you had to set DIP switches and jumpers to configure IRQs? How about having to specify the number of heads and cylinders of your hard drive in the BIOS? Always more fun when the drive manufacturer didn't print that info on the drive. Look it up on the internet? Ha! What internet? The internet makes user support soooo easy.

lrussell
lrussell

The job of the IT department has become much more crucial. Years ago the companies with an IT department or IT personnel were Medium to Large businesses supporting large server rooms and user bases. Now a company with 20 or more people, depending on their industry, need an IT person on staff or at least a very attentive and available consultant. The more the world interconnects the more we will be needed to troubleshoot issues. However, the generations that grew up with computers are filling the jobs of today and tomorrow and they tend to figure out many computer problems on their own if they want to. So, our level of knowledge has to be kept high to stay ahead of savvy users and to be prepared for major projects to leverage IT in a way that 20 years ago would have been a NASA or IBM project only.

welldone
welldone

How about these ones to brush away some of the cobwebs: -Could that software with the special cables (parallel & serial at each end) been Laplink? -Old Memory Management programs for addressing Extended/Expanded - 8 inch disk drives on the old Tandy (Radio Shack) TrashDOS computers - Visicalc and then Lotus 1-2-3 - Windows for Workgroups Ironically, we now seem to have almost done a 180 in the PC world. In many cases the microcomputer is becoming somewhat of a dumb terminal with low cost servers getting a lot of horsepower for hosting enterprise apps. Even thin clients seem to be making progress these days along with installations hosted by products such as Citrix.

TBone2k
TBone2k

Ah memories. In the early PC days, I remember replacing chips to upgrade a computer. Now we just switch out the whole box. Probably for the same price as what those chips cost. Backups involved saving your spreadsheet or document on to two different disks. You are right, the dependency on IT has changed. I don't think there was such a thing as a service level agreement when I started, either (not for PCs anyway). Its always been the faster you want to be back up, the more it will cost you. Just back then, nobody saw any lost value in being down.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Re: The original piece. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=279 How much our support role has changed is all relative, I suppose. Like I said earlier, in many ways I'm an old-timer; but compared to others, I jumped on the technology express well after it left the station. Maybe the following discussion will result in some strolls down memory lane, or perhaps it will generate some new ideas about providing support today compared to yesterday.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Orgh@AmazonianTribesmen.com (By the way, I read that the discovery was a hoax.)

Joe_R
Joe_R

But LapLink was what I used to connect those two PCs - a couple of 286s.

Joe_R
Joe_R

.....that Network Admin. in San Francisco who held the only key (password) to the city's entire network.

Joe_R
Joe_R

That's what I used for those two computers. It seemed pretty cool at the time.

Joe_R
Joe_R

It depends on how you look at it - or what you look at. Thanks for posting from a different perspective.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Probably an industry thing - mine never really used them.

Joe_R
Joe_R

It was like a puzzle, trying to make all the pieces fit together - but the shape of the pieces would change!

GeneS
GeneS

I didn't think anyone old enough to remember that stuff hadn't retired yet. Remeber when Apple IIc computers didn't have a hard drive? And, when hard drives came out. how about the number of different formats before IDE. How about when the first IDE drives were on a card?

thezar
thezar

Dependency? When I was young (guess) my Mother got a Washington Shopping Plate. She went to Hechts, met with their credit dep't and was issued a metal "card" with a typed insert with her name on it and an embossed "H". She could then go to Lansburghs and go through the same process except the same card would be used and an "L" embossed. Etc... Try to get a credit card company to work that way now! First job with (NOT in) the Navy. The Univac machine required full time operators and engineers on site (including at least one who wore sandals and live beads). When I went to program on the Apollo Project, the programmers had to know how to load 14" reel tapes, not to mention cut and read Mylar tape. There's memories, guys!

Joe_R
Joe_R

Thanks for posting.

Joe_R
Joe_R

LapLink - that what it was. Thanks...

Joe_R
Joe_R

Yu're right. A memory upgrade for an old 286 cost what an entire quad core computer costs today. And how much was that additional cost for a math coprocessor? $750? $1,000? Amazing, if you think about it. Thanks....

reisen55
reisen55

I have read several fun posts here about customer service, and I am writing this from a medical office in Monroe, NY which is one of my longest, and BEST accounts. The owner came in with his wife as a matter of fact. I have entry whenever I need it and remote access to server and workstations. I use pro-active support to kill off problems before they arise and thoroughly TEST before changes; redundant backups and very good relationships with doctors and staffers. I also bring them doughnuts from time to time, a very good client touch. YES much of my work is technical, but I know that part of the business and they do not need to know much of that. THEIR BUSINESS is eyecare, and that is quite enough for them. So, through their eyes (literally) CUSTOMER SERVICE is everything. And here, for these people and other A-1 class clients, the 24/7/365 rule applies and with a smile too.

hran/tech
hran/tech

Support is changing HUGELY in the next few years. With the move to cloud computing, web apps, and computers becoming appliances - the Geek Is Dead! IT support will become customer service, not technical service. True geeks will become a dying species relegated to the few massive datacenters. That said, I am trying to be a mammal and not a dinosaur. I built my first computer from a kit - and soldered every component into place myself. But now I sell myself as a people person who can interact with users as a coach and trainer. Adaptation to change is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to stay in this business. (Hopefully an asteroid doesn't hit the business before I'm done!) Who else sees adaptation to change as the major challenge in the IT industy?

GeneS
GeneS

One of the benefits of a post like this is to help us independent guys see that others suffer from the some problems. Much appreciated!

michael.kregel
michael.kregel

I think it shows how weak and fragile business is these days. The strong business is the one with a solid foundation that can get away with not having a computer system for a day or 2. How sad is it that an employee thinks when there computer is down, they can't get any work done. "Should I just go home"? Seriously people....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

from google. Global warming and evolution are also hoaxes....

thezar
thezar

My Univac time card while at Apollo had 90 columns of round holes. NIH had already struck!

reisen55
reisen55

I have two boxes, one sealed, of Maxwell 8" floppy disks, that were used in the IBM SYSTEM/36 midrange system, model 5360. A colleague of mine suggested they be framed behind glass with a hammer: BREAK GLASS IN THE EVENT OF AN EMERGENCY. They are wonderful to show to the young puppies out there in IT who have no idea what they were or what a disk platter was in a Digital PDP11 or 24.

Joe_R
Joe_R

We are in the customer service business. Thanks....

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The equipment has changed and the reasons for the calls have changed, but the need for customer service will never change. The need for technical service means you get called; customer service means you get called again. If you fix the problem but are an a-hole about it, you won't impress many people and you won't get called back. If you impress the people, [u]even if you have trouble fixing the problem[/u], you'll get called the next time they need help. The "true geeks" don't seem to recognize that.

Joe_R
Joe_R

I can't say right now whether I agree or disagree with the forecast. I do, however, agree that we all need to adapt and change or the industry will leave us in its dust.

Joe_R
Joe_R

Just to a different degree, I suppose. Thanks...

Joe_R
Joe_R

There are people who think that. Thanks for posting.

lrussell
lrussell

We have become so dependent on the computer that we don't know what to do without it. So much of our business data is only accessible via a computer. We don't print out CAD drawings unless necessary, we don't print our entire v-card public folder or Exchange GAL to save paper. Without many of those tools a user, depending on their job role, can be left to twiddle their thumbs.

Joe_R
Joe_R

I'll leave that for [i]Maxwell[/i] to debate over at the water cooler.

reisen55
reisen55

I have two boxes, one still sealed. I will let the sealed one go. $ 25.00 reisen55@gmail.com First one to write wins.

thezar
thezar

I've got 3 10MB hard drives still in the box. I'd trade one for one of your boxes of giant floppies since I only have one 8 incher that I can find.....

Dail
Dail

Anybody remember Head Alignement on these. Not to mention Head Alignement on the RM05 and RP06 disk drive after a head crash. Also Customer phones "system not working" usually on a Monday morning You drive to site, diagnose, order as many parts as you can get your hands on, return next day or the day after, whenever you get the parts.

Joe_R
Joe_R

I have only one 8" floppy. I never used them myself, but just pulled this one out of a trash can to show it to others. It's still in a box around here someplace. I would think that a sealed box of them might fetch a pretty good price on eBay! (I'll give you $20 for them!)

GeneS
GeneS

Totally correct!!