Life In The Bat Cave: The IT Way
Let's face it – the support team in any Information Technology department can be a bunch of doom-saying Chicken Littles. But is it any wonder? Every call is a problem someone is having. Every application is a crash just waiting to happen. Every new technology is a headache in a box, predicted to cause problems with the system even before it's unwrapped and installed. Such is the nature of Help Desk support. Here's the inside scoop: we don't get calls from people saying how much they love their new mice or keyboards or applications. We get calls from people wondering exactly how long it will be until whatever we broke for them is fixed.
Which is why, when I got a call recently asking about Microsoft Access, the IT way came in full force. You see, Microsoft Access is not like the other Office applications. It requires more work to learn, has a steeper learning curve than the others. Even if you know how to fly through PowerPoint, Excel and Word, Access can cause some issues. That's because it's largely based on logic and a structured way of doing things, and each step in creating a database builds off of the previous, so that if a user were to create a behemoth database storing all of his client information, based on one really screwed up table, we've got problems down the road. Things can be smooth sailing until two years later, when something suddenly appears to be a problem. Then you've got two years of data to salvage while fixing the problem for the future. In short, Access in the hands of untrained users can be a disaster. Ah, there it is. The IT way expressed in one sentence.
A user called me and indicated that he wanted to track his projects in Microsoft Access. Red flags went up, alarm bells started ringing in my head, and I stalled until I could get more information and determine whether I was supposed to support every knucklehead with a table and a form. In our office, Access is not (by any means!) standard software. The only users who have it installed on their PCs are those who need it to run some other management application, like CPi, for example.
Never mind that our e-mail system (GroupWise) is fully capable of handling everything this user wanted to do. Never mind that I'd never really had to support user databases before, and there was no reason to get all out of shape about the request. This was something new, and Access can be a nightmare in the wrong hands, so I asked for a meeting with my supervisor and the IT department manager, as well as the rest of the staff, including our database administrator.
We had a meeting. We talked about all of the worst-case scenarios we could come up with. We talked about what happens two years down the road, when the database breaks and we didn't have any idea what was in it or have any hand in creating it. We came up with a policy for supporting user-created databases. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. All user-created databases would have to go through IT, or we would not be obligated to support the database.
Then, I and the database administrator met with the user to talk about what he was looking to do. He explained everything he wanted to us. He said he had a database built already, and he was just looking to add a few things. We asked him to e-mail it to us, prepared for the worst.
One table. One form. One report. He wanted a combo box on his form. Instead of just finding out what he wanted in the first place, we met, and talked, and met, and talked, and wrote, and drafted, and created policies, and in short, took cover from the falling sky.
User has his database now, even though it would be so much cleaner to use GroupWise for what he wants. And we have a database support policy. I hope we never have to use it again, for just one table, one form and one report.