Information technology systems running on electronics make our lives and workplaces more productive and enjoyable. But increasingly this comes with often burdensome new responsibilities and unforeseen workplace demands. Few of us would like to return to the days of sharpening pencils to create paper documents, stoking coal furnaces by hand for heating houses, or feeding horses so we could get between farms and towns faster than walking. However, every technology system requires some TLC and plain old maintenance. In fact, some systems seem to require almost daily maintenance to keep running effectively, and many times our workplace expectations regarding professional responsibilities are growing.
Having recently bought a new Window’s 7 laptop, upgraded to the Microsoft Office 2010 suite, and configured Outlook 2010, I experienced a renewed awareness of just how much we have come to expect from ourselves regarding professional responsibilities. To maintain and run our personal information systems, either we take care of some pretty technical challenges ourselves or plan to have someone else we depend on do it for us. Otherwise, we can no longer write documents for ourselves, open our own filing cabinets, take out the trash, or make our own phone calls to communicate with associates. After all, most of this now occurs electronically with our computer systems, creating some new professional expectations for which we must plan. For those individuals operating in large organizations with extensive computer support and maintenance available, the demands information systems maintenance makes may seem small. But for private individuals or for small and medium sized businesses, planning for information systems support and maintenance is critical to having long term access to your vital electronic records.
For instance, as a small business owner, each time in the last decade or so that I have upgraded to new operating systems and applications software, I have had to personally retrain myself and reconfigure my systems. This typically requires a couple of days of lost time to get software downloaded and installed in the new computer, as well as, to download and install immediately needed updates. This must be done for all software including the Windows operating system, the complete Microsoft suite of products, full Adobe Acrobat, Quicken Home and Business, Norton’s Internet Security/Utilities, photo/music management/editing applications, backup utilities, etc. etc. And of course, all data needs to be transferred to the new machine. Either you are comfortably a DIY person, or you had better be ready to turn your office computer over to Best Buy’s Geek Squad (or an equivalent) and wait a few weeks while you are simply unproductive and uncommunicative. However, most of us expect ourselves and are expected by others to be available, communicating and productive 24/7.
I am almost never without access to at least two computers and two cell phones. This means more cost, maintenance, training, and technology planning for obsolescence and disaster protection. For instance, if as a small/medium business (SMB) you are using your older laptop as a backup office machine, you may now be trying to maintain two versions of operating systems, email accounts, applications software and data repositories. If you are creating MS Word documents in the 2010 version of Office with embedded graphics and tables, and your laptop falls out of the airplane overhead and crashes, can you really use your old laptop or another rented one to read the data files and go forward? This might be possible if you brought along your data on a USB compatible external drive, another self-preservation tactic I strongly recommend. And, testing for software and data file compatibility and/or obsolescence between generations of applications is a wise investment of time. For instance, Microsoft is now refusing to support operating systems and applications only several years old. “Support for Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2) ended on July 13, 2010” and “Support for Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) ended on July 12, 2011.” See http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/help/end-support. Using that old computer as a backup may not be enough to seamlessly get you through the amount of time it requires to buy and configure a new one!
What about your cell phone? Maybe it is an intelligent phone with Internet access, email, and text messaging that might assist in email communication if the travel laptop dies in transit. But what if phone goes dead? Are backup batteries or another phone available? Backup chargers? Can you configure these yourself? Can you locate a Verizon or other store at your destination in time to become productive before the meetings? Can you somehow reload your contact and calendar data and reconfigure email accounts? More training and maintenance is required. All professionals need to see these potential disasters ahead of time and build their own infrastructure of support organizations to assist them.
For an SMB, ongoing licensing, upgrades, and maintenance costs can prove very expensive and demanding. The initial installs of primary applications like Microsoft, Adobe, and others on computers are typically a onetime download and license fee. But frequently offered software updates must be used and can become both time consuming ($) and a risk to system stability if not maintained. Most robust antivirus and network security software only functions through regularly paid subscription fees and downloaded updates. You do not really own this software. Stop paying for Norton’s applications and they cease to work thus putting you, your associates, and your customers at risk of contracting viruses or other malware. Windows updates are critical for proper overall system functioning and protection from Internet vandals, thieves, and gangsters. I have an older laptop that missed some Windows Vista updates and now Service Pack 2 cannot seem to be installed. The system only runs without freezing up in Safe Mode and may need a complete Windows reload. That makes it pretty much useless.
And then there is some basic software training usually needed for every new application you use. Once a basic new system software installation and configuration process is completed, one begins adapting to new software menus, command hierarchies, default folders, and other “improvements.” A good question for software vendors is – Who thinks these are “improvements”? It has often been observed that the vast majority of personal computer users do not use the vast majority of software functions and features at their disposal. But, it can take considerable time to learn to use new software. Most of my current reports, blog postings, presentations, and other deliverables could probably be 90 percent completed with 10 year old software, having little need for many of the other features offered today. That is not to say that we do not ever use these new functions. However, is it really worthwhile to transition from pull down menus to tabbed interfaces to “ribbons” and then spend time searching for the old features we were already using quite well? I know of few professionals that can afford to sit through MS Office tutorials. We just “learn on the fly” as we waste time using the new software.
As one begins to use these new features, what is the organizational cost? Who is telling Microsoft to bury the old commands and features into some new ribbon hierarchy a couple of levels deep? Too many software vendors seem to be more attuned to offering the same features and functions offered by competitors rather than asking users of the software if they really want these new capabilities. They need to sell something new, I suppose. Of course this is great news for software trainers. Books, tutorials on CDs, online Webinars, and conferences provide ample opportunity for software users to become familiar with new software. But the added value to the majority of software users from many of these innovations is easily debatable. IT systems changes always take time and money that could be used for capital expenditures, creating better IT support, expanding other training opportunities, and hiring new personnel.
When asked where my office location is, I usually say “it’s wherever that box is” and point to my laptop. The virtual office we all seem to becoming dependent on requires some serious planning if we are to stay operational and productive. Planning ahead for our growing dependence on technology systems is critical if we are to have access to the electronic records and systems upon which we are increasingly dependent.