Appropriate IT

Friday, August 21, 2009

Project Pegs

A colleague of mine came up with this brilliant distillation of wisdom:

It is possible to force a project plan to match reality but impossible to force reality to match a project plan. So why is it the latter is attempted more then the former?

S. Yetter

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tale of Three Techs

My DSL has been flakey for a couple of weeks. Today, it finally went out for good. The administrative web app on our 2Wire router said the DSL signal was kaput. So began my experience with AT&T High-Speed Home Network support.

The first person to answer my call is Macy. I’m using her real name because everyone should know it. Especially her supervisor. Macy hung up on me because I couldn’t understand her accent. To her credit, before hanging up on me, she tried to communicate by talking REAL LOUD.

I called again hoping to get Macy as I had a few things to say but Joy answered the call instead. Joy asked me some questions and made me unplug the entire deal and move it to another phone jack. She put me on hold a lot while she multi-tasked with other support calls. Joy didn’t seem terribly enthusiastic about the whole affair. Most of the time I thought we had lost contact but after while she’d come back on the call. Eventually, Joy escalated the call to Ron after she was unable to figure out the problem. Even after I had to move the whole deal to another phone jack. Did I mention that I have (had) all of my cables neatly tied and tucked away?

Ron was from California and asked me all of the same questions Joy had. He was unable to find the ticket in the system. He announced that he had some diagnostic tools and could see that the signal in our house was intermittent (tools and progress!). Then he announced that our 3mb downstream should have never worked because we were too far away from the hub (sigh. so much for progress). I was about ready to write off the entire organization but Ron was very personable and seemed very interested in helping me out. I told him we’ve had this setup for three years with no problems except in the last couple of weeks. Somewhere, something has changed. Ron asked me about every phone we had in the house and if they were all attached to filters and expressed surprise that Joy hadn’t asked this earlier. I couldn’t remember so I did reconnaissance. Basement, first level and upstairs. And there it was: Jaime’s new cordless phone. Unfiltered. Got that about two weeks ago. I unplugged it and Ron announced that the signal to the house turned strong and steady.

This two-hour ordeal really reinforced in my mind what it takes for successful support:

  1. People
    We need more Rons and no Macys.

  2. Systems
    Accurate, accessible ticket information saves time for everyone. Additionally, Ron had access to diagnostic tools that Joy apparently did not. Finally, while high productivity is a key goal, multi-tasking to the point of ineptidude is not an effective component of a solid productivity system.

  3. Process
    Ron fell back to a first level diagnostic process that started at square one. Having and using such processes is the only way to efficiently diagnose and solve issues.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Speed of Trust

The Premise of Covey's, The Speed of Trust, is that when there is trust in any business or human transaction, the transaction takes less time and thus, costs less.

Think of any transaction, whether it be buying something or talking with your boss. If there is trust, things move along quickly. If there is no trust, we get bogged down in analysis and take extra time checking things out. Trust is the lubricant for effective human transactions. Increased friction is the result of lack of trust.

Typical of Covey materials is the framing of principles around values and specific behaviors, an approach adapted by Ministry Health Care for our Patient Promise.

Trust is a key element of effective leadership. I highly recommend this one. It's an easy listen, only 75 minutes (executive summary version from

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Personal Responsibility at the Desktop

In the aftermath of a virus or malware outbreak, we typically beat up on our Client Technology and Data Center folks or even our security software vendor and demand answers, “How could you let this through? Why didn’t our technology block this threat? Where was your vigilance?” Frankly, the question we really want to ask is:

“Who’s the nincompoop that clicked on the malware that kicked this catastrophe off?”

Virus and malware outbreaks typically cause us to revisit our usage of Windows local administrative rights. In a nutshell, local admin rights serve double duty as a requirement for certain, critical applications as well as the scourge of IT Support.

One approach to keep malware from attacking a device is to “lock it down”, that is, to remove local admin rights so that the user can’t install anything on it. This approach has its advantages because it protects users from the negative consequences of their own actions. This is similar to web filtering where we keep users away from harmful sites. Standard tools in the IT Security arsenal, right?

The problem I have with employing blocking technologies as the sole deterent is that we do two things:
1) We imply a lack of trust whereby we further are viewed as “big brother”.
2) We create a nanny security environment where users assume no responsibility for their actions (for what they click on).

While blocking technologies are important and necessary, I strongly believe we need to cultivate another, farther-reaching approach: personal responsibility and consequences. Before you call me naïve, consider this: Is it better to instruct our teenagers about the dangers of alcohol consumption or should we prominently lock the liquor cabinet and call it a day? Clearly the healthier and more sustainable answer is the former. (Having said that, there are certainly times when we may have to resort to the latter!)

I propose educating users on what they can and cannot install. We don’t want them installing games and we don’t need them to help us update their virus scanners. In fact, we don’t want them to install anything without the consent of the Service Desk. If, after this simple education, a user decides to install something, we will impose simple consequences. If it takes 30 minutes for a technician to remove Google Earth, then the user will forfeit 30 minutes from their paid-time-off (PTO) account. If they click on something that requires a 2-hour reimaging and reconfiguration of their device, they forfeit 2 hours from their PTO account.

In essence, we need to employ a two-prong approach: blocking technologies AND user responsibility and consquences.

In Jurassic Park, John Hammond tells Dennis Nedry that he doesn’t blame people for their mistakes, but he does ask that they pay for them. I agree and believe that this stance would vastly cut down on the number of illicit software installations, with blocking technologies providing the final cover.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fostering Cultural Excellence

Our Lady of Victory Hospital (OLVH) routinely posts the best employee culture scores in the Ministry Health Care system. I'm often asked how it is that OLVH consistently rates so high. We're certainly not perfect nor perfectly consistent across all departments but I see OLVH's cultural strengths as follows:

Leadership by Example

OLVH leaders are "working managers". I think that makes the layer between managers and staff less pronounced. Whether it's our DON working ED shifts or the Rehabiliation Director going to the prison to provide therapy, the leaders at OLVH have their sleeves rolled up just like the staff does. I believe that fosters more of a "we're all in this together" environment.


Values and culture activities are treated seriously and sincerely by our leadership. These initiatives are always followed by serious and sincere action. Employees can smell disingenuous lip service a mile away.

Connection with Staff: Honesty and Openness

From a senior leadership level, the hospital President does a great job of keeping everyone appraised of what is happening, even if the news is negative. There are few, if any, secrets. Discordance is hard to hide in a small environment so it's typically dealt with quickly resulting in less time to fester (certainly there is variability in performance here but overall this is a strength at OLVH). Conversely, good works and good staff are more visible to all. The President's weekly email is a great example of how she openly connects with staff to relay good news, bad news and give sincere kudos and encouragement to specific individuals.

Focus, Accountability and Follow-through

There is a strong current of accountability here complete with follow-through and closure of initiatives. Thus, things get done. This leads to the sense of accomplishment as well as confidence that what we focus on will be accomplished.


All of the above lead to a higher sense of trust among leaders and staff and trust is probably the main ingredient of commitment.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tis the Season: Digital Camera Purchasing

This is the time of year when I field a lot of questions about point-and-shoot digital cameras for gifts or for capturing pictures of kids and grandkids during the holidays. Luckily, a very highly respected digital camera review site,, is coming out with a series of reviews of cameras within various classes. Each class review will select the best cameras in their respective classes.

Their first review is of the budget camera class and includes cameras under $150. According to the review, the two best cameras in the group are (with Amazon links) the Sony DSCW120 at approx. $130 and the Panasonic LZ8 at approx $117.

Remember, this first review is of budget cameras so the winners will provide good quality photos yet may or may not have all of the features you desire. Read the reviews carefully as DPReview does a good job of specifying the pros and cons of each class of camera as well as for the individual cameras themselves. I'm actually quite amazed that both the Sony and the Panasonic above have Image Stabilization and large viewing screens. Clearly, high-end camera technology is working it's way down to the budget models!

If you're interested in digital camera buying this Christmas, check back at the DPReview site for more information and more reviews as they become available.


(BTW- Don't judge a camera based on the number of megapixels it has. All new cameras have enough megapixels to produce large prints.)

President-Elect Obama's Electronic Health Record

In a fortuitous coincidence, Will Weider (the CandidCIO) and I are blogging about the same topic this week: President-elect Obama's enthusiasm for Electronic Health Records.

From the Obama health plan:

A study by the Rand Corporation found that if most hospitals and doctors offices adopted electronic health records, up to $77 billion of savings would be realized each year through improvements such as reduced hospital stays, avoidance of duplicative and unnecessary testing, more appropriate drug utilization, and other efficiencies.

At Good Samaritan Health Center, it's the duplicative and unnecessary testing that we're going after in full force with our PACs initiative. Currently, images and interpretations are not well integrated into our referring physician's work flows. As a result, duplication of diagnostic exams occurs. Our goal is to ensure that high quality images and interpretations are available electronically 24/7 to all of our referring physician customers (HIPAA compliant, of course).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Off Site Office

So there I am, in the middle of the woods on a beautiful late October afternoon. I'm staked out on a tall, lake point with towering pines all around me. The sun warms me through the trees while I sit in a folding chair inhaling the clean fall aroma of leaves and pine needles.

The occasion is a highly anticipated PTO day to take advantage of a dwindling fall. I'm sitting in my chair with my rifle in my lap, soaking up the sun and waiting for the red squirrels to come back out of hiding. We like to keep their population low this time of year so they don't end up chewing up the cabins, sheds and boats that are stored for the winter.

I've finally got a visual on the noisy squirrel to the east when my leg starts to vibrate and Collective Soul starts to play. My cell phone. It's a support technician informing me that our retail pharmacy vendor has made a mess of our point of sale terminals.

Frankly, the fact that the call even comes through in the middle of the wooded, Wisconsin nowhere is a miracle brought about just within the last year. I actually have two-bars of signal out on the point. She conferences in the vendor and the troubleshooting begins in earnest.

At that point, Mr. Wire-Eating red squirrel ventures out from behind a stump and stops to present a perfect shot. Just as I'm set to hit the mute button, put down the phone and pick up my rifle, I hear my name: "Eric, you said you had archived the client installation packages, can you give us the UNC path to them?"

Sigh. Yes. I can. I scowl a bit as I watch the squirrel wander off while I give the technicians the paths and other site-related information needed to restore the terminals.

The conferences ends, I put the phone back in my pocket, pick up my rifle and lean back in the chair. Once again, the aroma of fall and the warmth of the sun fills my senses. Eventually, a smile settles on my face as I contemplate the surrealism of the whole event.