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Three projects, many lessons

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Sysadmin blog I am supposed to crank out a set of articles about NTFS and Share permissions, but I'm changing the topic: user experience management.

This coincides with a series of IT-related but not IT-led projects at work. The projects allowed me a chance to see how other individuals approached the provisioning of IT services, from which I learned a lot.

The first project is the rollout of a new payroll system. To users, payroll is a mundane item. From an accounting perspective new payroll systems are stressful events. The closest IT analogue I can think of is a major operating system upgrade: think taking your entire network from NT5 to NT6. Most bean counters are not power users, and watching a rollout such as this happen, without much interaction with IT, is enlightening in two ways.

Firstly, all technical information related to the project was doled out by the payroll company at metered intervals. We didn’t find out the IT requirements until the end of the project. We haven’t set up the hand scanner yet because can’t get firm details on what systems the payroll company requires. Plenty of hoopla about how excellent their software and labour saving accounting procedures are; not very timely with the details.

The second observation is much more positive. I watched as the payroll company provided an exhaustive amount of information to our bean counters about how to use the software. Videos, live support conferences, reams of documentation and step-by-step instructions for absolutely everything. Provided of course you are using the environment they assume, which sadly relies on Internet Explorer.

It's positive because the bean counters were able to train staff, entirely on their own, how to use this software. There should have been more inter-departmental communication, especially when bugs and browser problems popped up, but the documentation provided by this company was excellent. The accounts department rolled out the software almost entirely without IT’s help.

They are impressed by the software. I’m more jaded. From an IT perspective, it’s primitive. I am sure it ticks the right boxes for regulatory compliance and ease of use, but the software raised no interesting flags. The presentation however, and the level of support, were superb. Dress up mediocre software right, and people will fall over themselves to use it.

The second project involved tweaking and testing some XML-based templates that fuel a java app we present to customers so they can place orders with us. Changing a bunch of variables, then launching the app and testing it to see if it blows up is monkey work. Template design takes skill and talent; testing templates takes nothing more than the ability to pay attention. Regardless, the CEO of the company ended up spending an entire day testing templates because there was nobody else to do it.

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