By Mike Sullivan, MCSE+I, MCDBA, MCT

Ask your favorite DBA to go out to a user desktop and take a look at a problem a user is having with Access 2.0. You’re likely to be the recipient of some colorful suggestions. Ask your server administrator to help a user format a chart in Excel. Chances are your network account will be locked out.

Then ask a user what they think about the help desk, and you are likely to get an earful of complaints. “You mean the NO-HELP-desk,” or “Thanks, but I’d rather not have to deal with those people,” or my personal favorite: “I’d rather have teeth pulled; it’s less painful.” These are actual quotes I’ve heard from users in large organizations.

Where is end-user support in the “big picture?”
Why do we put end-user support at the bottom of the IT hierarchy? As we grow and develop our skills from desktops to networks to servers, we expect as a rite of passage that we will not have to deal with user problems anymore. I understand that when a user computer breaks, it’s only one user affected, but when a server breaks, it’s having a negative impact on many users. It is from this simple view of “importance” that we derive the pecking order of IT staff.

We tend to think that end-user problems are somehow less important once we have the skills and training necessary to elevate us out of the IT janitorial duties. What we fail to realize is that by assigning the least experienced personnel to the sweeping up of user problems, we are saying to the end users that their individual needs and problems are less important. This message gets through loud and clear. It is the reason for the frustration and animosity expressed by end users from coast to coast.

Many of us work on mission-critical systems day after day. The IT industry differs from other service industries in that we have a captive audience. We are, in essence, a monopoly within each company. We hold all of the secret computer knowledge and power. In this environment, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. Instead of passing this power and knowledge on to the people who need it, some of us try to hoard it. They have forgotten what we do for a living. We provide tools to end users so that they can conduct the business. We are a service industry, and the end users are our ONLY customers.

Keep the computers online and your egos in check
Over the years, I have encountered many examples of “forgetting” what we do for a living. My favorite involves a company needing to replace the main power switch for a building. They told everyone that power would be out from 9:00 A.M. Saturday until 3:00 P.M. The maintenance staff notified the local power company, all of the departments in the building, and the contractors necessary to perform the work well in advance.

When IT got wind of these plans, they said that the request to remove power from the computers had to be submitted for IT approval. Honestly, I’m not making this up! I was absolutely speechless. How far off the reality path had these people traveled? What were they going to do, say no? Just in case there is any doubt in your mind, the person with his hand on the power switch won.

As our industry has grown, the tools we provide have become critical to business success. This business-critical nature of the tools we provide leads some people in our industry to believe we are driving the business. The fact of the matter is that we don’t. We are not the drivers of the business bus; we are the mechanics in the garage who change the oil, check the tires, and get it ready for another day of service.

Mike Sullivan is a senior systems engineer with Merge Computer Group, Inc., a Richmond, VA consulting firm. His list of credentials includes MCSE+I, MCDBA, MCT, and 19 years of IT experience. He is a full-time consultant who occasionally takes time off from his clients to teach.

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