Matthew is a support tech at the corporate headquarters of an employment agency. The IT department consists of a small team of techs—a network/e-mail administrator, a Web site developer, a DBA, and a manager. The manager reports to the CIO who is based at the corporate headquarters, but who spends much of her time on the road visiting the company’s various regional offices around the country.

But as the small IT department becomes strained, the IT manager and CIO have a falling out. Just after this, Matthew learns that the CIO is meeting with an IT outsourcing company. However, his IT manager and the CIO both dismiss his concerns about the situation. Find out more and then tell us what you think.

Matthew’s dilemma
Although the department has no formal hierarchical structure, as the most experienced and senior tech, Matthew has fallen into the unofficial role of managing the other techs on a day-to-day basis. Matthew has been with the company for many years and is respected by his users and by the IT manager, who frequently involves Matthew in the decision-making processes that would not typically involve support techs. The company is privately owned and despite its size, has not forgotten its origins as a small, family-owned company.

Over the last year the IT department has come under considerable pressure to implement a number of new systems including converting the e-mail system from proprietary software to Exchange 2000, a network infrastructure migration to wireless, and the introduction of remote access. Although all the projects were successful, the support techs and the IT manager are all suffering from the long hours and stress of keeping the users up and running throughout the changes.

All the projects were instigated at the behest of the CIO who dictated her requirements to the IT manager, leaving the manager to sort through the details and come up with a reasonable implementation plan involving no downtime—all on a timescale dictated by the CIO. When the IT manager attempted to voice his concerns regarding the ability of both his department and the users to absorb so many changes in one year without becoming unduly stressed, the CIO made it extremely clear that she had absolutely no interest in his opinions. As far as the IT manager knew, the CIO had not consulted with anyone else in upper management regarding the projects.

After a few months of operation, remote access suddenly became unreliable. As the primary user of the system, the CIO became exceedingly irritated at the situation and demanded that the IT manager fix the problem now, and offer some type of reassurance that it would not occur again. Out of sheer frustration the IT manager voiced his true opinion on the subject, stating that he could not possibly meet this demand as the implementation schedule had not allowed any time for training for himself or his team, and that they were having to learn to support, maintain, and troubleshoot the system on their own time. Since this conversation, the tension between the CIO and the IT manager has escalated.

Fortunately, Matthew and the other techs have been largely unaware of the growing dispute until one morning a few weeks ago. Matthew was sitting in the office’s reception area installing an application update when five men arrived for a meeting with the CIO. Once they had left the reception area for their meeting, his curiosity piqued, Matthew checked the company name in the visitor log and was stunned to see the name of a well known IT outsourcing company. To verify his findings, and learn more about the company, he accessed its Web site, only to have his worst fears confirmed—the outsource company claimed to be able to replace onsite computer support with remote software, hardware, and backup services at a fraction of the cost of hiring support techs.

Matthew immediately called the IT manager to find out what was going on only to discover that the manager was completely in the dark. Much to Matthew’s surprise and chagrin, the IT manager did not take his concerns seriously. He dismissed the meeting as being nothing more than a pathetic attempt by the CIO to unnerve the IT manager. Matthew’s fears were not allayed by this rationalization; instead they were intensified by his new knowledge of a preexisting conflict between the manager and CIO.

Unsure what to do, Matthew waited until the visitors had left and then, with his heart in his mouth, knocked on the CIO’s door. To his surprise he found her very congenial and willing to talk. She explained that she had no intention of replacing anyone in the IT department; she was merely considering alternative ways of extending and improving the level of support to the users. She even elaborated on her dissatisfaction with the performance and the attitude of the IT manager. Stunned by this disclosure, Matthew thanked her for her frankness and left the office.

If you were in Matthew’s position what would you do? Who would you trust, the IT manager, the CIO, or no one? If the IT manager is correct, should Matthew even consider continuing to work in a department in which the CIO has such little respect for the manager? Are Matthew’s days with the employment agency numbered, or is there something he can do to influence the outcome of the situation? In particular, should he take advantage of the CIO’s open dislike for the IT manager and try aligning himself with the CIO in an effort to preserve his job, or should he remain loyal to his immediate supervisor?

We want to hear what you have to say!

You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we’ll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation’s actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario’s publication.

Help frustrated tech escape a backup dilemma
Many of your responses to a previous column offered some very practical solutions for the support tech’s frustrated attempt to persuade the person responsible for changing the backup tapes at a remote location to do his job. Here are a few of the suggestions:

  • The support tech should produce a daily report on all backups regardless of success or failure. This report should be sent to all IT, upper management, HR, and the person failing to change the tapes. This serves a “CYA” for the tech, and it lets people know about the problem without having to make a formal complaint. It’s possible that the reluctant tape changer will be embarrassed into performing his function. “I find that this is a perfect example for using status reports on a regular basis,” member Rick.miller wrote. “We give managers status reports of their systems regularly. If I gave a manager a report showing the backups were not occurring as written by policy—which would cause data to be possibly lost—the problem would be solved. After all, it is their data, not mine. The fact we provide regular information helps relationships. It gives objective information monthly. No one can say we are picking on them and it doesn’t require us to be computer police. We put the ownership back onto the manager and not IT.”
  • Make the tape changer’s boss the person who is actually responsible, and not the tape changer. If this isn’t feasible, the tape changing function needs to somehow be performed by someone in the IT department. “This is a serious issue of data security. Who will bear the brunt of the blame when a necessary file is not retrievable because the tape got overwritten?” asked Brouse. “I think the potentially serious consequences should be documented and given to the [general manager]. If that does not generate any positive action, then go over his head.”
  • “Thoroughly document the situation, including the normal regimen, the fact that backups are not consistently being done at the remote location, and her attempts to address the problem via the ‘chain of command,’ (her manager and the HR manager),” Daniel wrote. “Make sure dates are included. Then, submit the report to the manager, the HR manager, and the next person higher in the chain, with a cover letter briefly describing the situation and her attempts so far to remedy it.”
  • Make a formal complaint. Getting dependable backups is more important than preserving personal relationships. “Since Ken won’t do his job, and nobody wants to get involved…I would go ahead and file a complaint,” wrote Sparky735.
  • Simply modify the backup software settings to eject the tape on completion. This will at least ensure that the tape will not be overwritten.
  • Offer some real incentive for reliably changing the tapes, such as an extra day of vacation.

At the time of writing, there was no actual outcome to report on. The reader who submitted the scenario did so in the hope of receiving some practical advice that she could apply to resolve her situation. If and when a resolution is achieved, we will be sure to provide all the available details.