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BOFH: The Great HellDesk geek leave seek

Is that leave without absence, or absence without leave?

Episode 1

"Well that would be on the form, surely?" the H.R. person burbles smugly over the phone.

"It sort of is," the HellDesk user replies, "only it's hard to see because the characters are all blurred."

"They'll be blurred because your browser doesn't support downloadable fonts," H.R. replies in a know-it-all tone.

"What browser should I use?"

"A browser which supports downloadable fonts, obviously."

This is the sort of thing that, were it to happen to the PFY or myself, would result in a tragic yet unavoidable workplace accident.

The poor HellDesk geek is being forced to use the company's intranet server - a GARGANTUAN waste of time, effort and money on the part of the H.R. and finance department - to take a day off in lieu of overtime.

The VISION of the portal was to have a one-stop shop for all "secure" internal communication because the company wanted to claw its way into the 21st century by getting rid of the ancient internal mail system.

I didn't mind the internal mail system, archaic though it was. Each department had a canvas envelope full of leave request forms, packages for external mail and, my favourite, expense claim forms with receipts stapled to them. It was the matter of a moment to rip out a receipt or two from some annoying person's claim form so that Finance would dispute the reimbursement. Or the matter of half a moment to staple an image from the PFY's Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases into a sick leave request form. Sometimes I'd put an expense claim in myself - once I'd found a receipt worth claiming on. Childish, yes, but it passes the time.

In any case someone had talked the company into getting an intranet portal - now that half the world has decided to abandon them - FOR SECURITY REASONS... and as a result we now have a white elephant on our hands through which navigation can only be described as labyrinthine. "Which browser is that?" asks the HellDesk geek.

"Which ones do you have?" asks the H.R. minion.

"Explorer, Firefox, Opera and Safari."

"And none of them work?"

"Explorer and Firefox don't."

"You should try Chrome."

"So it works on Chrome?"

"No, I just mean you should try Chrome. It's so much better."

I suppress the urge to yell into the hands-free mic "BETTER HOW?!" and just place my hand in a reassuring manner on the geek's shoulder.

"Do you have simplified form that he can fill out?"

"Who's that?" says the H.R. person.

I identify myself and there's a little pause on the line - but not much. I can still feel the smugness oozing out of the speaker.

"We do have a pretty ugly one, but it's only meant for testing."

"Why don't we give that a try?" I suggest.

"It's not as good."

"You mean it doesn't have downloadable fonts which flash at you until you enter a value that it thinks is OK?"

"No there's no special fonts but YES, there's no value checking."

"Where's that at?"

"Well you go to the main portal page."

"Uh-huh," the HellDesk geek murmurs.

"Click on Forms Button."

"Yes."

"Then click on the Process and Proceedures Tab. Spelt with two Es - we can't seem to change that."

"OK."

"Now scroll down to the bottom of the list and click on the Forms link."

"That's different from the Forms button?"

"Yes."

"OK, clicked on that."

"And now you should get to a new page which has some department tabs on the top."

"Yes."

"So click on H.R."

"Yes."

"And then on the Forms tab."

"This is the forms tab on this page?"

"Yes."

"OK," the HellDesk geek says, probably wishing he'd started leaving breadcrumbs about five links ago.

"And then click on the HR link."

"OK," the HellDesk geek says, completely lost.

"So now there's a list of forms that you can fill out for work. But you don't want to click on them, you want to click on the link on the bottom right-hand corner which says DEVELOPMENT."

"OK >click<"

"Okay, so now you're on the development environment of the portal so you just need to go back down the same path as before Forms, Process and Proceedures - with two Es - Forms, HR department, HR and NOW you should have a list of the forms you can fill out - but this time the links are all in red because it's in the development environment. If you click on the Leave form there it will be the one without customisation."

"So this is the development environment?" I ask.

"Yes?"

"So won't this form register a leave request in the development environment, not the live one?"

"Yes, but it's printed out so it goes to the same place anyway."

"So it's processed manually."

"Well yes," he blurts, as if to a fool.

"So the portal is really just... an electronic internal mail system - really no better than email?"

"No, it's authenticated!"

"Oh right," I say, marvelling at the technology.

"There's no In-Lieu option," the HellDesk geek says.

"Sorry?"

"There's no In-Lieu option. I'm taking time in Lieu for overtime worked."

"Oh right, yes, of course there isn't. To take time In Lieu you need to get to the ORIGINAL leave form, take ANNUAL leave, but put it in a negative amount, then, in the Notes field put TIL. Then you can come back to THIS form and fill out a leave form for the positive amount."

"I... see," the HellDesk geek says, broken.

"And we'll process it and have it back to you in a couple of days."

"But I want to take the Time in Lieu now - well at lunchtime, when I started this process."

"Well I can't speed up the approval process. I need to get your form, print it out, send it to your manager to sign, then he'll fill out his online approval form and we'll be done. If it all checks out."

"So it's going to take days?"

"Well yes. It didn't used to take this long but we let all the internal mail delivery people go."

Around this time I hang up the phone and make a couple of suggestions to the young HellDesk geek in what can only be described as a paternal manner. 1.) Use the live environment to book out -40 hours overtime, 2.) Use the Live environment to book out eight hours TIL, and 3.) Use the baseball bat from the social club sports gear to ensure that the H.R. bloke only enters 1) into the database. ®


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