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Supporting Systems and the People Who Use Them

February 21, 2017

What systems are you running? That's an easy enough question to answer. You might tell me that you have two 880s, two 850s and two S822s, all running AIX 7.2.

But what do your systems actually do?

The answer to this question might also seem straight-forward. Say, for instance, that one of your systems runs Oracle, one runs WebSphere, and another runs DB2. So you might have a database layer, an application layer, and a web layer. You may be running PowerHA and GPFS. All of the systems you manage are patched, tuned and running great.

But why did your company purchase your systems, and what do they really do?

I would guess that they run the business. They track money. They track people. They track inventory. Maybe they're hospital systems that manage patient care. Maybe they're systems involved in dispatching police or firefighters. Whatever they do, they run the core operation and affect actual people.

Next question: How do your users actually interact with the machines that you manage?

Do you even have an answer to this? If not, you should make the effort to understand how your users work with your systems.

Do your systems run a warehouse? Get out on the dock and learn what can be done to improve their workflow.

Do your computers support manufacturing activity? Go spend time on the manufacturing floor.

Do you have a help desk? Head over there. What kinds of things are users having issues with? How can you help?

Or are you working for a hospital? Then go spend time with the nurses at their workstations and learn about the little things that drive them crazy.

"A co-worker of mine once snapped at a nurse when she had problems logging into her workstation. She responded by asking him if he'd like to come up the hall with her and fix an IV or administer some drugs. Touche. The nurse was just as knowledgeable and passionate about healthcare as my coworker was about technology. Working with computers was important, but it was only a small part of her job. She just needed to enter data and to print some reports. She didn't care about drivers, passwords or proper startup/shutdown sequences. Once we showed her how to do what she needed to do, she was fine, and we didn't hear from her again.

End users may not know computers, but they know when they're running slowly. How often do you take the time to actually sit down with your end users and find out how things are working from their perspective? I've had users who were printing out reports from one system and retyping the data into another. How easy would it be to save folks from that effort and aggravation? Just leave the raised floor and take a walk. Find people in other departments that use your systems and ask them for feedback. Ask them if you can look over their shoulder while they use your machine sometime.

End users are our customers. If they weren't using the data we store and process, there would be no need for us. And if we have a better understanding of users' problems and frustrations, if we show them better ways to do things, the entire organization benefits."

I believe most of us understand the need to listen to end users. But we're busy and they're certainly busy, so a reminder never hurts. If you actually have access to the people that use your system, accept this gift. Learn how your downtimes actually affect them. Our jobs aren't just about working with cool technology. Those awesome machines are there to support real people doing real jobs.

Posted February 21, 2017 | Permalink

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