Revised CompTIA codes standardize error tracking

This month the Computer Technology Industry Association, or CompTIA for short, has released an update to its 20-year-old set of Standard Error Codes, which can be used as shorthand to record the crucial details of support incidents. Service technicians can use the error codes to transform a piece of descriptive prose into a six-character combination of letters and numbers.

For example, let's say a Windows 2000 machine has been brought into the shop because of a recurring "cannot read disk" error when a DVD-ROM is inserted into the drive. The service tech replicates the problem with known good media, and then confirms that the suspect drive also returns errors when installed in an otherwise healthy system. When the tech contacts the original system manufacturer for a replacement drive, he can document his troubleshooting process thus far by providing them the error code ERLR32. (Visit CompTIA's site for your very own error code decoder ring.)

I'll admit that when I first learned about the revised error codes, my first thought was "Well, sure." There has to be something new to memorize for the 2008 A+ Computer Hardware certification exams, right? CompTIA does more than just administer the technician certification process, though. As the primary computer technology industry trade association, CompTIA is where all the big names in hardware, software, and services set aside their competitive differences and try to come to an agreement on issues in the common interest. So the new error codes aren't just fluff to pad out a certification exam, they're a conceptual framework developed with input from Cisco Systems, Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo, Xerox, and others.

In a press release, CompTIA VP Richard Rysiewicz stated what the members hoped to gain from the revision of the rubric. "Information collected through the use of these codes makes it easier for manufacturers to perform analysis of the symptoms reported by customers experiencing problems. Manufacturers have the ability to track specific parts from service call initiation through resolution, and back to the component manufacturer."

Mr. Rysiewicz gets at the real value of these new error codes, especially if they're widely adopted among manufacturers. These standard codes are easy to quantify and can provide a pool of data that can be mined for trends. Better information about component failure and support calls, either in individual shops or over an entire product line, can lead to better service and happier end users. Keeping accurate and efficient records about support requests and responses is absolutely vital, because not recording a problem's solution almost guarantees you'll see it again.

How do your help desk techs chronicle support requests? What's more valuable to your help desk, an analysis-friendly error code database or a knowledge base of tried and true solutions that your techs write themselves? Do the revised CompTIA codes have a place in your trouble-ticket system?