Coffee talk

We’re in the middle of upgrading our infrastructure over here, and it’s chaos.

No, we’re not setting up a storage area network. We’re not even doing a refresh of our desktops. The entire overhaul is taking place in the kitchen. On Monday, the vending machine was removed. Next they took the

water cooler and finally, the coffee maker. The events which followed struck me as analogous to the kind of disasters which plague corporate enterprises that bungle an IT project. Let’s see how far we can stretch it:

There are probably people in our company that knew about the new equipment — someone must have ordered it, though I’m not familiar with the procurement process — but the majority of the staff in my group were unaware of the project. That includes the rationale, the schedule for completion, or the expected outcomes (except maybe better coffee?).

Once everything had been removed from the kitchen, a box containing the new water cooler was plunked on the floor in the original space. This provoked a lot of speculation about when it would be set up and whether there would be any real benefit from it, but once again little information was at hand. This may be the first time the water cooler conversation actually concerned the water cooler.

The new vending machines were in place by Wednesday. There are two of them now, a regular one with potato chips and chocolate bars, and another one for soft drinks. This demonstrated a lack of internal consultation, at least in the formal sense; no one I know here had asked for overpriced Diet Coke. The chocolate bars also went up to $1.10 — we are going to have to invest more than expected for this project. That said, there were a few improvements. The old vending machine had one of those little doors at the bottom that clamped shut suddenly when you were reaching for that mission-critical box of Smarties. Communication & Networking‘s Greg Meckbach nearly lost his hand in one incident, leading him to post a “”warning note”” on the machine that hungry ITBusiness people blithely ignored. The new machine has a much better door, and the coin slot even accepts the newer dimes and nickels. Improved functionality, an easier-to-use interface — things were lookin’ up!

By Thursday morning, however, the natives were getting restless. Installation of the water cooler was behind schedule — at least, MY schedule — and some of us were worried that two days of tap water were going to do us in (I refused to shell out $1.25 for bottled water). Our office manager, a woman who represents the lynchpin that keeps this whole operation running, tried to pre-empt a mutiny with a scribbled note that the cooler would be functioning by the end of day, which she posted on our bulletin board. That was nothing compared to the coffee brigade that filled the kitchen this morning. The new machine was in, and at least half a dozen people surrounded it, but no one knew how to operate it.

It comes with a small liquid crystal display that, as always, gives no useful information. “”I keep pressing it and it says it should be working, but it’s not coming out,”” our office manager said. “”I need my coffee!”” snarled ITBusiness.ca’s Neil Sutton (I went downstairs to get him one from the coffee shop. This is the kind of management finesse that got me where I am today). Those who installed the equipment probably underestimated our training needs. They may have thought the device was completely intuitive. I have many thirsty people who would tell you it was not.

Hours later, as I write this next to a recently-filled bottle of deliciously purified H2O, I think I can see signs of things settling back into place. Despite the grumbling, I’ve already forked over the money for a Caramilk bar, while others in the newsroom have gotten their caffeine fix. That’s the other thing about enterprise users: they don’t like change, but given time, they roll with it. There are things we could learn as an organization from this week’s experiences, but overall, I think the upgrade ended relatively well. Maybe we should start thinking about implementing ERP.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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