Working hard to make things easy

Dear Editor,

Having been in the ICT business for longer than I care to remember, I’ve seen it all. From laptops filled with sand to servers and whole IT-systems being held together on a wing and a prayer. Frankly, on the one hand I shouldn’t complain, the mysteries of ICT, equipment, software and now applications, the Internet and storage solutions mean we have a viable business and there’s no end in sight as innovation and technology keeps moving forward at breakneck speed.

However, I recently realised the major problem with IT is that the harder you work on hardening the systems to make sure nothing goes wrong, the less people realise how vital you are. If nothing fails, no one notices. Just like cars used to be very temperamental, we now expect cars to start at the turn of the ignition or push of a button. Technology and advances in engineering mean the cars start in any climate and at any time of day. The same goes for computers…for the most part.

Gone are the days that you would need to reboot several times a day, the ‘blue screen of death’, rarely happens, apart from when you are trying to do a presentation, but that may just be Murphy’s Law. IT systems require investment, they require upkeep and they require backups and especially now that systems have become business critical and need to be ‘always on’. The Facebook and WhatsApp outage from a few weeks ago, which hit the globe, only lasted six hours, but for some it seemed to last an eternity.

Because the systems, laptops, devices and apps so rarely falter, users don’t think about it. When they do malfunction in any way, the user is often reduced to simply cursing, perhaps giving the hardware a good smack or at a pinch, turning the machine off and on again.

This is the moment that people ask; “Why do we pay IT-support, if the system fails?”

However, when everything runs smoothly, the same question phrased slightly differently also gets asked; “Why do we pay for IT-support if everything runs smoothly…all the time?”

Very quickly IT-support is called to work out what the issue is, sometimes it’s something as simple as the machine or device simply not being plugged in, hence that’s the first question always asked. However, if the problem is more difficult, it is up to IT-engineers to fix it and get people or whole offices or complete factories moving again.

There’s seldom a situation where you come out ahead, especially at technologically unsophisticated companies. Everywhere around the world every single service seems to be online. If you can imagine it, there’s probably an app for it, or a website where you can buy, order, sign up or otherwise engage without physically being in a shop or office.

All these convenient applications have been coded and developed by engineers, programmers and whole armies of people that keep them running. They stay in the background, or often in the basement of companies, rarely seeing daylight. Only coming up and engaging with the other employees when there is no choice but to check why something isn’t working.

This is where I need to champion the Information officers, the system engineers and the tech-guys and girls, often simply called the ‘IT-nerd’. We fix what is broken, we make sure your processes that are automated work, we clean your Outlook mailbox. We do all of this without out any praise, we don’t need any. We take our praise from the bragging rights we get amongst ourselves for keeping a system in the air, without any ‘downtime.’

However, I do need to stress and reiterate that if no investment is made in the upkeep and modernisation of equipment and of software, you will find yourself with a laptop, or a device that doesn’t work. Departments, offices, manufacturing lines and applications will grind to a hold.

So, if you want to make sure you never have to think about why your computer or the ICT-system works, make sure regular investment, upgrades and maintenance are done on your system. This way we can make it look easy for you.

Johann van Rooyen