‘The server crashed. What do we do now?’

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The fax machine runs out of toner. The copy machine jams. The laptop computer won’t connect with the main system. The server crashes. The voice mail system needs to be rerecorded or rerouted.
Such technical mishaps are routine in the world of small business.
Most small companies have one "go to" person who knows how to correct the problem and keep the business running smoothly.
However, what happens when that person is on vacation? Or worse yet, quits? Can the other employees in the company handle the inevitable computer problems that come along?
Sally Miles, vice president of Computer 911 Inc., a Milwaukee-based network consulting and development firm, has seen many negative side effects for companies whose employees are not adequately trained to use their computer system.
"We assume that people know how to make backups," Miles said. "We set up a server to automatically make backups, but you have to change the tapes every so often. Something we’ve seen is that someone who is in charge of that will leave, and no one is trained to replace them."
Computer 911 has had calls from businesses that have not known their server was not backing itself up for six months, then has gone down, losing six months of information.
"We’ve seen that, and it’s real tragic," Miles said. "It’s amazing how many people take their hard drives for granted and don’t watch real carefully to make sure things are getting backed up to the server or they’re changing their tapes."
Miles said many companies make assumptions about their computers, software and support systems that eventually will have ugly consequences.
"We have more than once encountered an individual who instead of setting up folders for things they wanted to save (in Microsoft Outlook), they saved them in their deleted folder," Miles said. "Then later, they are surprised when the computer goes out for service and the technician deleted all the things in the deleted folder."
Most businesses could avoid problems with employees not knowing the ins and outs of software by involving those employees in the buying process, according to Scott Hrdlicka, owner of Tritech Corp. of America, a Waukesha-based firm that specializes in cabling, professional services, hardware, technical sales and consulting.
"The biggest thing that is overlooked is when (companies) are in the planning phase, they don’t get the users involved," he said. "The people on the front line will be using the system the most, and they have to be the biggest supporters. If they can’t use (the system), it won’t do the company any good."
Hrdlicka said Tritech tries to ensure employee buy-in when it installs new software or hardware for a client.
"When you follow the cycle, it’s hard to mess up," Hrdlicka said. "When you’re just buying one piece here and there and not understanding how it affects the business, that’s how you can get into trouble."
When Innovative Technology Management Corp. (ITMC), a Milwaukee-based consulting and support firm, performs upgrades or computer maintenance for clients, it often recommends training programs for staff, according Jeff Vanevenhoven, vice president and director of client relations.
"That’s generally how we get the training business," he said. "When we’re installing servers, an opportunity presents itself where we suggest they could use some training."
ITMC often trains companies about software they already own. The company recently helped a law firm’s attorneys and paralegals learn how to use a voice recognition program.
He said ITMC also recently taught the president of a local food manufacturer how to send and receive e-mail from his main account on his Blackberry Device.
"A lot of the time, we’re as much business consultants as computer consultants," Vanevenhoven said. "They’re just trying to get their job done. They don’t want to be the best, smartest computer whizzes in the world. They just want their stuff to work, and if they can do something faster or better, we can suggest it."
ITMC often shows companies how to perform basic tasks in common programs such as Microsoft Word, Vanevenhoven said, as many people are unaware of the full capabilities of such programs.
"A lot of that isn’t what you classically think of as classroom training," Vanevenhoven said. "It’s like saying, ‘Did you know Outlook could…?’ It’s also exposing people to things they might not have known even existed."
Steve Culver, one of the owners of Computer 911, said a company’s users can be the biggest challenge to performing an upgrade or installing a new system.
"It’s a universal problem – the users are the hardest part to upgrade," Culver said. "Some people don’t like computers. If they don’t have an enthusiasm and curiosity about computers, they won’t dig into what it can do. A lot of people approach it like a telephone. We’re focused on the computer and the applications that people need to use to do their jobs effectively."
November 12, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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