11 Apr 2014
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John Tate ponders IT support issues in the age
of web based purchasing.
Most computer users will have experienced the joys of IT supplier helplines and web based support. Hardware and increasingly applications software can be purchased over the internet. Sage, for example, offers online shopping for its core products.
Readers of Charity Finance may recall that a year ago I purchased a Dell laptop over the web. I experienced a whole series of problems with getting the machine to work. Even with online help/telephone support it took over three man days of my effort to get the machine working properly.
One year on the laptop is still working and I have been pretty happy with its performance. Until last month that is when the laptop ‘got dropped’ and as a result the screen stopped working. So off I went on the usual support journey to get help from a primarily web based sales company. The first challenge was to track down the right number to call at Dell to get help. It took me six calls to get through to the right person with the usual delays in going via an automated telephone help system. Finally I spoke to a person called Binoy at a call centre. He informed me that my warranty did not extend to accidental damage and that I would have to book an engineer to visit and replace the screen. This was going to take a few days and Binoy was unable to give a time when the engineer would call or how long it might take to fix the problem.
I resigned myself to the wait while inwardly groaning at the difficulty of getting through to Dell and the delay in gaining access to a support engineer. That was until Binoy rang me back. He thought that the problem with my screen might be due to the cable connecting it to the motherboard becoming dislodged. He suggested that if I was up for it he would talk me through how to take my laptop apart, re-attach the cable and see if this solved the problem. So I undertook the task under Binoy’s excellent and patient guidance. Some 15 screw removals later the screen came off as did the keyboard and I gave the relevant cable a shove and reassembled the machine. Hey presto, the problem was solved and my machine was back to normal.
I of course was delighted and particularly pleased at the Dell support. Binoy went the extra mile and really helped me out. However, it got me thinking that with an increasing amount of IT purchases now being made via the web, how can we gear ourselves up to manage support and what can we expect from our suppliers?
The first thing to recognise is that for the non-expert, websites and support forums are only a partial solution to a problem. Proposed technical solutions can require complex adjustments. The process to manage this is not to be taken lightly and can result in additional problems rather than a straightforward fix.
The second is that it can be very difficult to actually speak to someone who really understands your problem and can solve it on the telephone. Suppliers are out to make money and often recruit inexperienced staff to man a helpline. They may also not have adequate staffing levels to quickly respond to a problem.
So how to you survive in this environment? The first step is to plan and budget sensibly for the cost of IT support. If you are buying a new application or a lot of equipment establish whether you have the in-house skills to manage the implementation. If not try to find a supplier who can hand hold you through the process and provide you with some face-to-face training on what you are using. See if you can designate one or more people in your organisation to become ‘advanced’ or ‘super users’ of the system and make sure you provide them with training on what they are doing. Consider also paying for a local company to provide telephone/on-site help if needed. Make sure you have a backup/disaster recovery strategy so that if the application or hardware breaks you can continue to function while it gets fixed. These options are going to cost you money but if you try to cut corners you may end up with a load of hassle later on that has a far greater impact on your organisation than the money you have tried to save.
Finally, see if you can find suppliers and products that have a good track record of product and service delivery – including the ability to offer the human touch when required and ideally an employee called Binoy!
John Tate is a leading IT analyst in the charity sector and chair of Citra
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