Who Pays for Technology Failures?

I read a post (and partial rant) by Bart Cleveland over at AdAge blog this morning. The server is down, he is the feeling hostage to the IT guy, and it ain’t no fun. In fact, when technology fails, it causes a lot of waste and misery in the work place.

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We work in computer networks all day every day. Our business depends on technology. When a machine crashes, when a drive fails, when software gets a bug, time is lost. For us, that time is also money. As a small company, we’re still learning how to build in the accurate level of overhead to cover these unexpected failures in software and hardware. They are a real fact of business. Yet they are not anyone’s fault most of the time. So until we can say, “Computer, run diagnostic program” (and it does!), who should bear the burden of the expense?

Here’s a real example that happened just this week.

h3. Client Document Received in Corrupted Form

A client recently sent me a large Word doc with content for a new project in development. When I went to open it, my Microsoft application told me — one at a time — that every single font on my computer was corrupt and should be removed. I then had the same error when trying to open excel and powerpoint files, though not in any other non-Microsoft applications.

This indicated a bug of some sort has temporarily wrecked my Microsoft apps. Normally I would just re-install the software and get back to work with about a 30 minute detour for troubleshooting. But I am traveling, and don’t have my software CD with me. For many people, that would have caused a complete work stoppage.

But being a geek girl, I was able to open the file in BBEdit, a plain text editor. Of course that meant I lost all formatting but I can handle that. The problem is I also inherited about 25 pages of gobbledy goop code that was wrapped around the real content, and that I had to strip away before I could do anything useful with the content. We’re now looking at easily another hour or more of lost productivity.

h3. So Who Pays?

Who pays for this? Do I bill the client 2 hours for a task that could have taken 15 minutes if everything were working as intended? It’s probably not her fault, though it’s possible her machine had a virus. However, it’s not my fault either, as my Microsoft worked prior to receiving her file. If I were not working the extra two hours on her project, I could have been out walking in the mountains or swimming in the ocean. grin

h3. Bill Bill?

Do I bill Bill Gates for the software failure? Although his company makes the software that crapped out on me, the file could have been corrupted in email transport. This is actually a fairly common occurrence. (Hint: zip your files before sending them via email attachments. It seems to help.)

h3. Shane’s Got It

I love my partner Shane’s perspective. If we were on staff (not under contract) and software or a server goes down, we would continue to be paid while we troubleshoot the problem. Our salary is not suddenly suspended until the technical problems are solved. In fact, our greatest value comes into play when we set about making inexplicably broken things work again. That’s a skill that most technology users do not possess. As Bart Cleveland said so well, people just want things to work.

h3. Local Clues

I like to look for clues in my environment and in the here and now when I am confused. Since I am on an airplane, I immediately hear in the back of my head, “In the case of a loss of cabin pressure, please secure your oxygen mask before assisting others.” Of course! I want to be sure I can take care of my needs so I can then be of help to you. We are in this together. It’s my responsiblity to keep my company strong and solvent. When technology fails, most likely it’s going to be our job to fix it.

h3. Typically, No One Wants to Pay

Clients sometimes don’t want to pay for this, because in most cases it is not their fault either. Inexplicable stuff happens. Considering how many points of failure there are between each user and a given web site, I am amazed the internet and software and hardware works as well as it does. But that doesn’t mean I am any less desirous of technology that just works. As a fulltime technology user, I am intimately affected when it works as well as when it doesn’t. However I’m of the belief that the end recipient is primarily responsible for paying when technology fails. If we’re working on your job, and technology fails, we’ll bill you for fixing the problem. We hope you’ll be glad to have a smart technologist on your team when these unpredictable failures occur!

h3. What’s the Bottom Line for Your Business

When IT fails, everyone pays. We’re on this mothership together! If we both can let that weigh in, we can get problems solved faster and cheaper for everyone.

# If you are an IT service provider, we think it’s important to build in to your overhead or directly bill for the time when IT is acting up. Otherwise, your business is not financially sustainable.
# If you’re an IT user and buyer, you’ll save by having the best people on your support team. The faster they can solve your problems, the faster you can return to productivity and the less it will cost you.
# If we see that our success is mutually interdependent, it creates an incentive to have open communication. We have found that open communication creates the best environment for preventive medicine as well as a quick return to happy machines.

h3. Links

Bart Cleveland Perspectives of running a small ad agency.
Bose Headphones I won’t travel without them!
Foti Filter Another great traveler’s aide; it moisturizes the air as it filters out pollutants and germs. I find it really helps maintain my health while traveling.
Where Did The Money Go: Easy Accounting Basics for the Business Owner Who Hates Numbers
iPod Nano Yum yum! My own little world inside my own little head. Great sound scape when traveling in crowded, noisy environments.

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