After my painful experience getting my pass for PCHQ, the government's eavesdropping centre, I was quickly dropped into a crisis. Head honcho Major Preston Stewart, a man of few words, summarised succinctly. "Bit of a cock-up in PC support. We want to outsource it - long term, hope to outsource all IT. If we outsource, no problems with unions getting re-established. Brought in big American firm Silicon Support Systems on trial. Silly buggers - not only messing it up, but decided to use IT department for trial. Suicidal. Sort it out, okay?"
Ours is not to reason why. I started by getting some feedback from the coalface, talking to SSS users. Everyone had an unpleasant story to tell.
Typical was Miss (name deleted by PCHQ security), a systems analyst. "It's a nightmare," she said. "We've just moved to a different LAN domain, and we run a client/server application holding its data on the LAN. It took SSS three months to transfer the data. First it lost it, then it transferred the client end instead of the server onto the new LAN, then it discovered it had wiped everything off the old LAN. We finally got it back off a tape - and now look at it." She gestured at her screen. As she tried to connect to the LAN the message "Access denied" merrily popped up. "Should we call the SSS helpdesk?" I asked. "We could," she said. "They might reply."
I followed up my exploration with a meeting with SSS's site manager, and all became clear. Sandy Culotz was an ex-mainframe man of the old school. I later discovered he only got the job with SSS because the other applicants either had beards or wore earrings, which SSS regards as clear proof of unsuitability.
"You've got a bit of a problem, haven't you, Sandy?" I opened. He shook his head, looking puzzled. "I don't think so. Since we've been on the job we've upped the MTBF by 5% and reduced parts throughput by almost 15%. That's big savings. As for software and hardware proliferation, our new purchasing controls and standard setups will slash costs." I hesitated.
"That's good. What about customer satisfaction and helpline clear-up rates?" He shrugged. "If people need that much help, they shouldn't be let loose with PCs. It's amazing what we can do now with mainframes and semi-intelligent terminals. Was there anything else?" He looked pointedly at his watch.
I made a tactical withdrawal. This one would take delicate handling.
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