The Talented Mr. IT

It’s 8:20 a.m. on a Monday morning and already Richard Labbé has his hands full, directing his IT help-desk team to find a quick fix to a networking outage affecting close to 30 corporate users.

Considering he’s responsible for supporting an estimated 800 corporate users in total, half of which

are remote, this particular dilemma seems miniscule, but Labbé isn’t treating it that way.

“”This week is starting even before I left my home,”” he says with a smile. “”There are a few users who can’t log onto the network. The problem came up around 7:30 (a.m.); as soon as users started logging on.””

Labbé is a program manager for Getronics Inc., a Dorval, Que.-based technology provider. He’s also the head of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.’s in-house IT help-desk department, also in Dorval.

Today, Novartis’s offices are located in three separate buildings within a campus-like environment. Labbé’s team is comprised of 20 help-desk employees; 14 work out of his office, three are located on the Novartis campus in a nearby building where the server room is located, and the remaining three are working as part of a Novartis project team one floor below.

One of his team’s latest projects is the grand bull-moose of tasks: Relocating all of Novartis’s computer systems into one new building as opposed to the campus layout the company is housed in now.

The latter half of Labbé’s day is full of meetings with various company departments to discuss those plans — he and his team have been working on them for the last eight months. With moving day only weeks away, crunch time is upon his team.

“”Right now, I have about 15 additional people on the project team,”” he says. “”Everything that’s packaged has to be transposed into the new environment with the new tools . . . it’s probably going to be a two- to three-month deployment to the end-user, so that’s the delivery of the operation.””

Inside the outsourcer

In July 2000, Novartis outsourced its help desk to Getronics — a provider of vendor-

independent consultant and business solutions and services. Aside from help-desk support, Labbé’s team is responsible for imaging, deployment and support at the back end (LANs and WANs). His office provides a single point of contact for all Novartis’s users in a locked down environment.

“”Every application that goes into the Novartis system needs to be preconfigured, locked into our environment before it’s distributed by a server,”” he explains. “”It can be cumbersome to add software . . . we have to package it and have it approved (by Novartis’s head office in Basil, Switzerland).””

Labbé’s role also involves compiling and presenting reports to Novartis’s executive team to help make the business run more efficiently. Prior to joining Getronics in 2000, Labbé was the assistant manager of customer service for Microage in Montréal. He’s also held managerial positions with DAP Technologies Ltd., Fujitsu Systems Business of Canada Inc., and Philips Information Systems Inc.

He chose to make the jump to Getronics simply for the thrill of a new challenge, he says.

Around 9 a.m., Labbé confers briefly with two members of his staff — Jean-Claude Lussier, supervisor, IMAC (installations, moves, additions and changes), and Danielle Martineau, the asset manager clerk, advising them on what the problem is and how it’s being addressed.

“”My network LAN administrator has been working on the case since 7:30 this morning and he has to pinpoint the problem,”” he explains. “”I did a broadcast to all the users (indicating) they may experience some problems with the network connection. As soon as it’s rectified, we’ll broadcast a new message informing them it’s OK to log in.””

After fielding multiple phone calls around 9:30 a.m., Labbé turns to one of his colleagues — June Wells, Getronics’s account executive for Novartis — and smiles.

The networking problem has been remedied.

“”There was a replication problem between the servers so we changed the sequence of replication,”” he says. “”Certain workstation addresses were not recognized by the server. But by changing the replication sequence, it solves the problem. Now (the IT staff) will monitor the server and do another configuration so it will prevent this from occurring again.””

With that, Labbé sends another voice message broadcast to all of Novartis’s users informing them that the situation has been resolved. Victory, if only for a brief moment.

Support from afar

Labbé says supporting his 450 remote users is of paramount importance. Unlike the company’s in-house staff, its mobile sales team doesn’t have the luxury of time if their notebook computers are incapable of accessing the corporate network.

“”Every device deployed in the field is Novartis-approved,”” he explains. “”With remote users, if they’re having issues, you get those calls either very early in the morning or after hours.

“”During the day they’re on the road working so they’re not hooked up and you can’t replicate (their system) . . . It’s very critical (to solve the remote user’s problem as soon as possible). You can’t tell them to stay in their hotel room until you call them back.””

To further complicate his day, Labbé has yet to greet one of his new team members who started work today.

“”I have a project team downstairs that he’s joining on as we migrate from one environment to another,”” he says. “”We have a good team here. We are a stable team and we support the infrastructure and the users. As a result, Novartis’s staff can spend more time strategizing for their business, knowing they have someone local who can handle all their IT problems.””

With a few moments to relax, and posed with the question, Labbé stops and considers the future generation of IT workers. What is the one key element that is lacking among Canada’s young techs?

“”Soft skills and customer service skills,”” he says without a hint of uncertainty in his voice. “”People need to put more of an effort behind better customer service. All they concentrate on is technology, technology, technology; so much so they seem to forget how to talk (to other people).

“”Typically, new recruits I’ve seen are great guys and they can do lots of things and they know the technology, but you cannot put these guys in front of a customer. Technology is getting so complicated now, some of these recruits can’t express themselves in a manner the customer will understand.””

Labbé goes as far as to suggest IT training schools should to add customer service skills to their curricula.

“”In my 25 years experience, I can tell you this: If you’re getting into the IT business, you will learn (technologies) year after year. If you stop studying, you’ll be out of the business and you have to keep on top of it,”” he says. “”But customer satisfaction is something you also have to do a lot of.””

This issue is not lost on Getronics, he says. For instance, the company makes a point of practising what it preaches by investing in its people.

“”About 60 per cent of your job is going to be dealing with the customer while the other 40 per cent is going to be repair the problem,”” he says. “”It won’t make any difference in the end if you solve their problem and you don’t handle the customer correctly and with respect.””

No rest for the weary

It’s 11:15 a.m. and another IT issue arises.

This time, one of Novartis’s remote sales team members is having difficulty accessing the company’s expense account reporting software, Boomerang.

Labbé orders a few of his help-desk agents to collect data from the users unable to access the application. Once the problem is adequately assessed, his team will execute a solution.

While not a mission-critical application in comparison with other programs the drug manufacturer employs, it’s of concern to Labbé. Still, he brings a healthy sense of humour with him to work.

“”I better wrap this situation up before it comes back to Boomerang me in the head,”” he says, before bounding out of his office to discuss the matter with his staff.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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