How to Implement an IT Systems Conversion Project Schedule

In my last post, I showed you how a simple Project Schedule Template can save time and headaches for IT managers. If you are in IT, sooner or later you are going to need to convert some technology, install new hardware and software to replace some old equipment and software, or maybe install new equipment and software for a totally new application. In this post, I’ll show you how to use my time-tested Systems Conversion Project Schedule.

Schedule the work, work the schedule

In most system conversions or new system installations, there are a few key groups of tasks required to do the job. One thing you can to do  help organize your project schedule is to group the detail tasks by category.

In the sample I’ll discuss, I identified  six major categories of tasks:

  1. Assessment – Identifying everything required to complete the project.
  2. Order and organize – Ordering equipment, software and other items as needed plus organizing components of the project.
  3. Infrastructure – Infrastructure and desktop support tasks.
  4. Setup/Installation – Software installations, etc. File build tasks would also be in this category.
  5. Programming – Programming and Business Analyst work.
  6. Training – Training and testing tasks.

You may need other category groups, depending upon the nature of your project. Most system conversion or installation projects will have at least the six that I’ve listed above.

Organizing the tasks by category group will also help you when you run weekly status meetings to determine the status of the project as it organizes the discussion into logical work groupings.

“X” marks the spot!

What I like to do for each task is to put a “/” in the cell for the week the task needs to be completed by. When the task is completed, I change the slash (/) to an “X”. This way, it is very easy to walk through a status meeting quickly by just focusing on this week’s tasks that have not been marked as completed. It also makes it easy to visually see the status of the project.

Another thing to consider for your project is that there will be tasks that are critical to the project.  In fact, those “critical tasks” may turn into  bottlenecks that can jeopardize a successful delivery of the project. It’s easy to highlight these tasks for the team by shading the cell that shows the scheduled completion date for the task. By doing so, that shading will trigger you to ask about the status of the task weeks in advance of its scheduled completion date, and you can  instill a sense of urgency on the parts of the people responsible for getting the work done.

Project success is much more likely when you organize your project into a solid schedule, assign appropriate responsibility, and check on the status every week.

In the sample there is a generic project schedule along with an actual project schedule sample used for a past systems conversion. Feel free to use these to help you in your next systems conversion or installation.


Download Mike’s IT Systems Conversion Project Template!

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Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

7 Things Your Users Want From You (and Your Help Desk)

Whether you’re providing computer support to fellow employees, consumers or other  companies your user all want something from you and your help desk operation. Obviously they want their hardware and  software to work properly but that’s not all. Knowing what callers want and how to give it to them makes the job easier and more enjoyable. It also makes for a great Help Desk analyst.

1. Respect
Respect is probably the number one thing everyone wants from everyone else. We
all want it from our friends, family, bosses and the kid behind the counter. Given the universal desire for respect, it’s amazing how often we forget to give it. Treat your callers with respect and expect it in return. Respect means recognizing that a lack of technical prowess does not equate to stupidity or laziness. It also requires you to remember when computer systems were not part of your knowledge base. Let your caller know you respect their contribution, whether that is sales, purchase or just that they are trying.

2. The solution
We usually hear from our users when there is some sort of problem. We are counted upon to provide the solution. While you can’t always give an immediate solution you can let user know that you understand the problem and are working toward a solution. Do this by restating their problem, using somewhat different wording. Then tell them what you are doing to find the solution. It takes only a few seconds and not only eases your users’ the minds but verifies, for you, that you really do understand the situation.

3. Less Jargon
Other computer professionals like it when you talk geek. No one else does. Unless they are in the business your spouse, your children, your friends and family hate it. Your users hate it more than anyone. They already feel inadequate for having to reach out to you for help. Not being able to follow the conversation just makes them feel worse.

4. Honesty
When you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know the answer but you will find it. The honesty is always appreciated and you look like an even bigger hero for all of your efforts when you do find the answer.

5. To get back to work
All anyone wants from the Help Desk is to get their work done. Your users come to you because there is something they need to do, usually for their job. They can’t do whatever it is and for some reason they believe you can correct that situation. That seems obvious but it’s important to keep in mind when talking with your users. They just want to get their work done.

6. To let off steam
No one wants to be yelled at and it’s not part of the support analyst’s job to accept that kind of treatment. Still, sometimes people just need to let off steam. When you hear the frustration start to build in your users’ voices, preempt the situation by acknowledging how frustrating it must be for them and that you know they probably need to vent. Hearing that will most likely be all the vent they need and yelling will not be necessary.

7. To be told they are not the problem
One reason user frustration gets to an explosive level is they fear the problem is their fault and is shining a light on their inadequacies. Computers are confusing and difficult. Even the most astute users and analysts sometimes delete a file they didn’t mean to or fat finger a password, one too many times. Let your users know that the system is supposed to compensate for human error and sometimes it fails. If that wasn’t true, the company wouldn’t have hired you.

Obviously these seven items don’t cover everything callers want or need.  What do your callers want from you and how do you provide it? Let us know by posting a comment below.

If you like this column, check out “7 Things a Help Desk Analyst Needs from the Help Desk Manager.”

Mentally Tough Rules for IT Managers

As an IT manager, are you “living the dream?” Or do you find yourself frequently wondering how different your life would be if you were selling shoes or painting houses for a living?  It isn’t easy being a good IT manager.  In this column, I’ll share with you seven “mentally tough” rules for technology managers that can help you get through those days when it feels like you’re “living the nightmare.”

Being “Mentally Tough” Takes Practice

I first read the “Mentally Tough Rules for Racquetball Players” in an issue of National Racquetball magazine from the 1980s. I’ve saved the page for over 20 years and referred to the rules many, many times when I needed to keep my cool, both on the racquetball court and in the corporate IT world.

Here are the rules as originally written for racquetball players. These rules aren’t just for racquetball players, though. They’re awesome for people who play any other competitive sport.


I will not turn against myself during tough times.
I will come prepared to compete every day.
I will put myself on the line when I compete.
I never surrender.
When it’s tough, I will stay in control with humor.
The crazier it gets, the more I have got to love it.
 I love to compete more than winning.

I love these rules, and it occurred to me that it only takes a few tweaks to customize them for IT professionals:


I will not turn against myself (or my team) during tough times.
I will come prepared to compute every day.
I will put myself on the line when I compute.
I never surrender.
When it’s tough, I will stay in control with humor.
The crazier it gets, the more I have got to love it.
I love getting it right more than being right.

 How do the rules apply to you as a technology manager? Let’s count the ways.

1. I will not turn against myself (or my team) during tough times.

“Tough times” refers to any time deadlines are looming, stress levels are high, and you’re tempted to get mad at yourself or the people who work for you. If you’re having a day on the racquetball court, it won’t help your shot-making to yell at yourself or smash your racquet against the wall. By the same token, if you’re having a bad day at work, it’s counterproductive to get angry at yourself or at the people on the team you manage.

 2. I will come prepared to compute every day.

I changed “compete” to “compute” in this rule because that’s what we as technology managers do, right? We compute. We help other people compute. The demand for computing never rests in our work lives, so we have to be on the ball and on top of our games every single day.

 3. I will put myself on the line when I compute.

This rule supplements rule #2.  It isn’t enough to merely show up prepared for work – you have put yourself on the line. On the racquetball court, “putting yourself on the line” means pushing yourself to your physical limits and chasing down every single ball. In the IT Department, it means taking responsibility for making sure you and your team members are meeting your users’ expectations.  It means pushing yourself to be as smart and effective as you can be as a manager.

4. I never surrender.

This rule reminds me of the tag line in the movie Galaxy Quest, “Never give up! Never surrender!” On the racquetball court, it means never throwing in the towel just because you’re losing the game or the match. In the IT Department, it means not settling for a half-baked solution or a half-truth explanation about why something isn’t working as designed. It means never clocking out mentally just because it’s been a long, difficult day, week, or month.

5. When it’s tough, I will stay in control with humor.

This rule is the hardest one for me to follow.  If you’re like me, and you can become a bit of a hot-head when you’re under pressure, use this rule to remind yourself to lighten up, Francis! When I’m on the verge of losing my cool on the racquetball court, I have a couple of jokes and images I think about that always make me smile. I use those momentary distractions in my head to re-focus my thinking on what needs to be done.

6. The crazier it gets, the more I have got to love it.

You know why this rule is important? Because you have to be a little bit crazy to go into the information technology field in the first place! I pity the fools who went into IT thinking that their work lives would never be crazy. Systems and routers go down. Code breaks. Users do stupid things. Vendors fail to meet their SLAs. And the worst things always happen at the worst possible times. That’s life in IT. Love it or leave it, baby!

7. I love getting it right more than being right.

The point of this mentally-tough rule for racquetball players, “I love to compete more than winning,” is to remind players not to be bad sports when they lose. That’s easier said than done, of course. Most people who play competitive sports, especially individual sports like racquetball or tennis, hate to lose. But you can’t win them all, so you have to enjoy the competition.

My rewrite of this rule is aimed at IT managers who think they always have to be right, and that their way is the only right way to get something done.  If you truly love “getting it right” more than “being right,” you and the people you manage will benefit from your lack of ego.

Are YOU mentally tough?

To share your thoughts on being “mentally tough,” please post your comments below or send a Letter to the Editor at [email protected]

Are the people on your team mentally tough? Download a sample Skills Matrix for free!

This skills matrix was developed by contributing writer Mike Sisco to help IT managers take an inventory the skills for each person on your team.  You may be surprised to find out how many skills you have at your disposal that you didn’t know you had!

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Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

7 Things a Help Desk Analyst Needs From the Help Desk Manager

Good support techs are hard to find and even harder to keep. It’s a tough and often thankless job. Callers often abuse them, other IT employees take them for granted and the hours can be terrible. More importantly, the combination of being able to understand the technology and work with people is exceptional.  There isn’t much a help desk manager can do about those things. What a manger can do is ensure the analysts have everything they need to do their job to the best of their ability.

1. The right tools

No job is easy without the right tools. Whether the job is to repair plumbing, cook a great meal or diagnose a computer problem, having the right tools is essential. For a help desk the right tools are:

a)      Schematics on all supported hardware

b)      Good remote control tool

c)       Documentation on all supported software

d)      Admin rights to every supported system

2. Appreciation for a job well done

Award ceremonies can be fun but giving out the same plaques every year or month isn’t true appreciation. The way appreciation is properly shows is to personally thank the employee. Managers should occasionally stop by the desk of someone who has done well, maybe even invite that employee out to lunch. While there the manager should thank the employee and be specific about why that employee is appreciated. A follow up email that can be kept for their records is a nice touch but the personal visit will stay with the employee for weeks.

3. Training

Nothing changes faster than technology and the Help Desk analyst must be at least one step ahead of callers every day. Whether in a classroom, book or computer based. Training for the Help Desk analyst is essential. Of course time and money are always an issue. Anticipate and plan for slow periods by keeping up to date training programs available. Even if only for an hour, taking advantage of low call volume to increase skills is the best possible use of a Help Desk analysts time.

4. Help in the trenches

Most Help Desk managers spent quite enough time on the phone, before they were promoted, and have no intention of going back. This is a mistake. While a manager’s time is best spent managing, the occasional foray back to the trenches not only keeps him or her sharp and in the game. More importantly, the extra help on a really busy day will be greatly appreciated by the analysts. It’s always good to know the boss can do the job and not just boss.

5. Trust

Trust can be the toughest thing for any manager to give. For one thing, some employees just don’t deserve it. Most do and they should be left alone to do their job. Whenever possible a manager should deliver the requirements and then let the analysts figure out the best way to deliver. Micromanaging by scripting or insisting information be gathered in specific order are indications of mistrust and make an analysts job, more difficult, not less. New employees or those who aren’t performing need those things. Give the rest the room they need to do their jobs.

6. Reasonable Requirements

Reasonable requirements vary from office to office, depending on what is supported and the sophistication level of the users. It’s impossible for anyone outside to say what is reasonable and what isn’t.  Looking at history and working with trusted employees is the only way set the parameters. Once those parameters are set the expectations shouldn’t be raised, without serious reevaluation. In other words, once an employee has reached a productivity level considered excellent, stop raising the bar. Doing so just forces the employee to have a bad month, in order to start all over again.

7. Occasional work off the phone

A help desk analyst should spend the vast majority of work time, on the phone.  The most important tasks on any help desk are answering the calls and helping the callers. Everything else is secondary. There are some tasks that are not phone related and giving analysts time on those tasks, when call volume permits, is a great way to recharge batteries. Examples are giving training as well as receiving it, documenting procedures and testing new software and hardware.

These seven things are important, doable and make a difference. There is more though. Please post a comment below and tell us what you need from your manager and why

For more great information on how to manage your IT employees check out The Practical IT Manager Gold Series by Mike Sisco. It’s a great resource.

Software Review: Good Technology’s mobile application tool illustrates need for mobile device email policy

In this column, I’ll tell you how one Big IT Shop solved the problem of how to enforce the email information security policy in the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) era when 95% of their employees access corporate  email via smartphones, tablets,  and company-issued laptops.

One ISO’s “Good” solution for enforcing email policy

I recently consulted on information security governance with the Information Security Officer (ISO) for a company that provides professional services in the financial consulting industry. The firm’s experts travel all over the place and use  all sorts of devices to get their work done, and the ISO needed a way to secure  sensitive information transmitted via corporate email on the approved devices.

The ISO implemented the mobile content management solution from  Good Technology (“Good”). For the record, I don’t have any affiliation with Good, and I wasn’t involved in the process of selecting Good as this company’s third-party service provider. I’m writing this plug of their system based on my review of  reports that come out of the Good system, and they’re impressive.

In a nutshell, the solution helps enforce information security policy in two important ways:

1) It monitors all outgoing email messages and attachments for sensitive information.

2. It generates a report that goes to the Information Security Department showing which users have violated company policy regarding the use of  sensitive information.

Here’s one cool thing about the Good solution. You can configure it so that only work email – email that goes through the company’s email gateway – is monitored by the Good app. So if someone forwards confidential information from the corporate email account to a cloud-based account, that violation of policy will show up in a report.

Suppose one of your employees with a smart phone leaves the company? In that case, you can use the Good solution to remotely wipe all of the business email messages and contacts from the phone, without deleting any other data or apps.

 Sensitive information, you say?

In this case study, the definition of sensitive information is very clearly stated in this company’s information security policies. The problem is, the people who needed to know what the rules are  – the mobile device users – weren’t reading the information security policies. My recommendation to this ISO was to add the rules about sensitive information in email to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.

If you don’t want people forwarding corporate email messages to their cloud-based email addresses, you need to tell them.

Use this free download from ToolKite Cafe’s BYOD toolkit to gauge your BYOD readiness

If you don’t currently have a formal program in place to manage your BYOD users, ToolKit Café’s BYOD Toolkit can help. The BYOD toolkit contains standardized templates and sample policy documents you can quickly customize for your organization.

Try before you buy

If you’d like to look at the type of material available in the BYOD toolkit, you can download a free sample BYOD audit program. This sample audit program provides step by step instructions to help you figure out what you have and what you need in the way of policies and procedures related to managing your BYOD users.

Talk Back to ToolTalk Weekly

If you  liked this column, please post a comment below. Follow this link to read another ToolTalk Weekly software review:  Recuva saves the day when files get deleted.

Managing People: Introducing the worst IT Managers ever

In this column, I’ll tell you about the worst IT managers I’ve ever worked for, with,  or alongside.  After you read about this story of unbridled arrogance, I dare you to tell me a story about another IT manager who is worse.

Worst IT Manager #1: a heinous crime against a friend of mine

I was consulting in a big IT shop in the healthcare industry and one of my friends, a full-time employee, started looking for a new job. She found the job she thought was the perfect next step for her career. She applied for the job and accepted an offer. The story should have ended, “She gave her notice and went on to great things at the new company.”  But no.

The problem was that her new employer-in-waiting was an IT vendor for her current employer. Mind you, she was not recruited by the vendor. She saw a job advertised and applied for it. She got the job on her own merits. But then someone from employer-in-waiting called my friend’s manager as a courtesy to say, “Hey by the way, we hope you know we didn’t go after [name withheld].”

Her boss didn’t let the guy finish his sentence. He started cussing and moaning about how dare they try to steal HIS employees out from under his nose, and don’t they know they have a clause in their contract that says they won’t recruit our employees and, bam! This pathetic excuse for a human being used his position as Managing Director of Operations and Telecommunications and How to Loosen a Jar from the Nose of a Bear to intimidate the vendor. Plainly put, he threatened to take away their business if they hired my friend away.

Pop goes the job offer

Just like that, the vendor caved and called my friend and said, “We regret to report that we’re weak and spineless and we’ve caved in to your current manager’s request that we withdraw the job offer we made you.  So so’, but you know.” They said if she quit her current position, they could offer her a position in six months, if one is available at that time.

Does that just suck? So I award the dishonor of #1 Worst IT Manager Ever to the guy who played “god” with my friend’s life as well as her professional career. He picked up the phone and screamed at the vendor instead of, of I don’t know, calling my friend into his office and asking her why she wanted to leave? Maybe mentoring her in her career instead of sabotaging it?

I award the dishonor of #2 Worst It Manager Ever to the guy who caved in. I don’t care what’s in the written agreement between the parties, he should have held his ground and said, “Now wait a minute…” and worked something out and, oh I don’t know, stood up for my friend’s right to freedom to work wherever she wants to work.

Regarding the contracts: change your policy

Some of you will say “Come on, Jeff, if there’s a clause in the contract about not recruiting each other’s employees, then #1 Worst IT Manager had every right to be mad.”  In my opinion, anything in a contract that limits someone’s ability to pursue a better opportunity should be ignored. Common sense and common decency should trump antiquated contract terms.

We’re not talking about situations where the Chief Scientist or Chief Engineer is jumping ship to the current employer’s competitor and, in doing so, will harm the current employer. We’re talking about people who administer systems, for crying out loud.

Use the Gold Series Toolkit to improve yourself

If you might be one of the “bad managers” I’m ranting about, here’s what you should do instead of playing God with other people’s lives and careers: Use the Practical IT Manager Gold Series to improve your own performance. This toolkit, written by Mike Sisco, contains dozens of useful tools and templates designed to make your life easier.

If you’re wondering what makes the Gold Series so special, here’s a free sample from the toolkit to whet your whistle: The New Employee Offer Letter Template. 

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I’d like to bring your attention to the next-to-last sentence in the welcome letter:

{Employee first name}, we are excited about you joining our company and believe that you will make an excellent addition to our team.

Notice that you’re asking your new hire to be an “excellent addition to [y]our team.” You’re not asking the new hire to sign on unconditionally for the rest of his or her life.

What’s your wost IT manager story?

To comment on this column or to nominate your own Worst IT Managers ever, please post a comment below or send me a note at [email protected]

Choosing report criteria from a dropdown list in Microsoft Access

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, I’ll show you how to create a form in Microsoft Access that lets an end user choose a value from a dropdown list and how to use the value selected as the criteria for a report. The best part about this approach is that it doesn’t require any programming skills.

Why this tip is too cool for school

When you run most Access reports, they’re  designed to include “all records” by default. Users  come along and say, “I want to run the report with only some of the records.” The fast, easy, low-tech way to prompt the user to enter a value to filter the records is to type a prompt string (enclosed in square brackets) in the Criteria row of your query. When you run the query, Access will display a rudimentary dialog box like the one shown below.

000EntersomethingThat solution isn’t bad, but there’s one big shortcoming: Your user has to know what value to type! Your user has to spell the value exactly as it’s stored in the underlying data. A misspelled word will result in a query with no data and a report that has no records. Instead of depending on the end user to type the correct value, you can make sure that the query always has a “good” value by making the user choose from a dropdown list.

Quick Summary

If you’re an experienced Access user, you can use these step-by-step instructions to create the dropdown that lets your users select the criteria for their reports. Less  experienced Access uses can follow along using the detailed instructions and screen shots in the Detailed Instructions below.

1. Create a form to use as the Reports Menu and put a button on it labeled with your report name.

2. Create a second form that contains a combo box that displays the possible values for your report criteria.

3. Put a button on the second form that launches the report itself.

4. Give the combo box a unique name. By unique, I mean a name that isn’t the same as any other c0ntrol in the database.

5. In the criteria for the query that populates your report, enter the expression [Forms]![form name]![combo box name]. The keyword [Forms] tells Access “Look on [form name] and fetch the value named [combo box name].

Detailed Instructions

Here are a few screen shots to illustrate how this technique works. Let’s start with a form named Demo Reports from which your users can launch their reports. In this sample, we’ve put a button on form labeled with the name of our report, “Business Unit Demo.”  (Click on the screen shot to see a bigger version.)



When your user clicks the Business Unit Demo button, it opens a new form like this one, which displays a blank field with a dropdown arrow that will let the user select the Business Unit to be used as the criteria for the report.



In this example, our universe of possible values is Collections, Human Resources, and Marketing.



Here’s what the header of our final report looks like after we selected Human Resources from the dropdown list and clicked the “Run Business Unit Demo Report” button. We put the [Business Unit] field in the report header and in the page header so that it’s obvious to every casual observer that this Business Unit Demo report has been filtered for the Human Resources business unit.



Behind the scenes: The combo box

Here’s what the property sheet for our combo box looks like. Notice that we gave the combo box the name BusinessUnitName.



Behind the scenes: The query that populates the reports

Like most good Access developers, I use queries to pull the data for my reports. In the Criteria row, I entered the expression




This expression tells Access: Look on the form named frm_BusinessUnitReportParameter and return the value assigned to BusinessUnitName. Notice that the name of the underlying field is [Business Unit ID].

Summing up

If you design Access reports or support end users who do, this tip gives you the ability to create a report interface that lets your users select criteria (set parameters) for their reports without the burden of knowing how to correctly spell and data-enter the report criteria. Your users can simply click on the dropdown arrow, select a parameter, and then run the report!

Is this tip helpful?

If you liked this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, please share it with the Microsoft Office users in your organization. If you have any questions about this tip, please post a comment below or send a note to [email protected]



7 things YOU can do to create a greener office

If you believe, like we do at ToolKit Café, that no man or woman is an island and that we all have a responsibility to take care of our planet, then we hope you enjoy this set of seven keys to being green at work.

1. Wear clothing that can adjust to the poor environmental controls that all offices seem to have.

This tip provides a virtually free and extremely easy way to use less energy. The large spaces and number of people in most offices make it virtually impossible to control the office environment to everyone’s satisfaction. Making it worse are the folks who hide small heaters under their desk. Don’t be one of those people. Instead, wear light clothing in layers, no matter what time of year. The ability to remove or add a jacket or sweater as  the office temperature fluctuates (or you move from room to room, meeting to meeting), enables you not only to be comfortable, but more productive.

2. Instruct your callers on enabling power management software.

The EPA estimates that providing computers with “sleep mode” reduces their energy use by 60 to 70 percent. Help Desk analysts who are concerned about unnecessary energy use are in a perfect position to encourage this practice. Many calls are filled with awkward moments where both the analyst and the caller are waiting for a reboot, a program to download, or any number of annoying computer delays. These times are a great opportunity to ask the caller if they are using power management and instruct those who aren’t. Don’t preach or even inform about the need to be green. Save that for your personal blog. If the caller isn’t interested, drop it. If there seems to be interest, use the time to set them up.

3. Turn off printers and other desktop devices when you leave work.

Many offices leave shared systems running during off hours. As wasteful as it is, it’s understandable. Waiting for printers and copiers to warm up is can be a hassle. A good solution is to work in a team. Ask coworkers who share your concern to take responsibility for turning devices off and on. If early birds are willing to take the power on responsibility those warm up times won’t affect productivity.

4. Create a Car pool forum or database for coworkers.

With gas prices creating more and more concern ride sharing is a great deal more attractive to many workers. Offer to set up a way for would be car poolers to find each other. If your company doesn’t have a employee forum ask management to allow or even help you create one for ride sharing. Green is hot so they may be more receptive than they were in the past.

5.  Clean up the old coffee mugs hanging around the office.

Most offices have break rooms with sinks. The cabinets under those sinks are generally loaded down with disgusting old mugs left by previous employees. Take the initiative to clean them out and offer them to employees who are still using paper or Styrofoam cups.

6. Reuse water bottles.

Even though we’re finding out that much bottled water comes from a tap and not a spring, we’re still buying it. Probably because a cold bottle of water is very convenient. Instead of throwing the plastic bottle in the recycling bin consider real recycling. Refill it with tap and put it in the fridge for the next day. It’s just as convenient as the $1.00 bottle in the vending machine and it’s free.

7. Don’t use cubicle lights when overheads are on.

Most cubicles are equipped with lighting below the overhead bins. They are great after hours when the overheads are turned off. During the day they are unnecessary and should be kept off.

How green are you?

We want to know what you think about these seven tips, so please post your comments below and share your tips for a greener office.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Managing the dangers of IT support

Many years ago, when I was head of a regional IT support team for a very large corporation, I was asked to swap out a router card in one of our larger warehouses. Normally this would not have been a problem. We kept spare cards for all the routers and it was easy to schedule a 30-minute downtime while the work was done. However, this warehouse was different. For some reason, long before I took over support, the network center was installed in a box that hung from the ceiling, 30 feet up. To make physical changes, a tech had to stand in a cage while a forklift raised the cage to the top of the highest shelf. Once there the tech would step out of the cage and straddle an open area about three feet wide.

Fear versus Phobia

Some people refer to a fear of heights as a phobia. I think that is just wrong. Phobias are baseless fears. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure falling from a 30-foot high rack to a concrete floor would have an adverse affect on my ability to keep the few brain cells I have left trapped in my head, not to mention what it would do to my limbs, neck, and spine.  I really did not want to change that card so I asked if any other team members were willing and got a volunteer right away. That might sound like problem solved, but the volunteer had a head, limbs, neck and spine as well, and even if he wasn’t worried about them, I was. I had no sleep the night before the scheduled change.

Research your Risks

The card change went off without a hitch and everyone laughed at me for being such a wimp, but I was not happy. As a team leader I felt like my first responsibility was to make sure that no one on the team was killed in the line of duty.  I know that sounds like an easy task, since we were in a suburban office building and fighting computer viruses instead of the Taliban, but when a regional manager demands people travel by fork lift, it becomes a problem. I needed to do some research.

Put Safety First

I found that, like all large companies, we had a corporate safety policy and we were not following it. I was able to arrange for special training in working in high places and safety gear. We still had to go up in the cage, but the cage was chained securely to the fork lift first. Also we got safety straps and hooks to secure us to the racks before we stepped out of the cage.   It made things a great deal safer.

What I learned from that experience is being prepared for potential danger and protecting your team is just as important for an IT manager as it is for beat cop. It may not come up as often but when it does you want to be ready. That’s true about everything in management. Few managers are prepared the first time an employee must be fired or when large numbers of assets are discovered missing.  We never forget a lesson we learn the hard way, but sometimes it’s better to learn from the experience of others. Mike Sisco has that experience and offers it to us in The Practical IT Manager Gold Series, 10 books can get an IT manager though any crisis. I highly recommend it to any and all IT managers. I also think it’s a great investment for the IT tech who would like to manage. IT’s never too early to learn to think like a pro and learn to lead a team practically.

What’s your danger zone?

Have you or members of your team had to deal with dangerous situations while trying to provide IT support? Post a comment below and tell us what you think about workplace dangers for IT professionals. Are your people at risk?

Update your security training with “Never click on any antivirus message EVER!”

IT managers of companies from county government offices to Fortune 500 companies have one very important thing in common: They employ humans. Sadly, no matter how much coaching and training and reminders we give users via email, Webinar, Web-based training, and PowerPoint presentations — sometimes they get it wrong. This is the story of one such user.

Ransomware strikes in 2013

I thought ransomware was relegated to mythical status, the Kraken of malware killed by the Perseus network perimeter operating system (PNPOS). But no. I got a call this week from a frantic user who said, “I got a message from AVG saying it found an infected file and to click here to remove it, and when I did, I got this weird screen saying the FBI had impounded my computer because of illegal activity, and I have to pay $500 to get the computer released!” Srsly.

Say what? I trotted myself down to the client’s office and sure enough, this user who should have known better had invoked a bad case of ransomware.  It said that if the user entered the numbers from a certain type of prepaid card, the computer would be released in 1 to 4 business days after that. (Y’right.)  My Emergency Repair Disks (ERDs) in hand, I rebooted and booted from CD and got error messages about a corrupt boot sector. I got to a command prompt and by DIR command there appeared to be data, but I couldn’t get devices recognized to copy files off. It was a mess.

Lesson Learned: Remind users about malware

We drilled a hole in the hard drive of that PC and configured a new one. This user was embarrassed because, frankly, she should have known better. It was hot, she was stressed, she clicked without thinking.  In big corporate network environments, we like to think it’s next to impossible for a user even to get a chance to enable malware. But if it gets through, someone will click on it.

Do you do periodic information security training with your users? If so, make sure that you remind users what you want them do if and when they counter suspicious emails or pop-up messages.  If you don’t do annual information security training for all users in your organization, start now. First, you can write a short email reminding All Users that if ever they see a message about “cleaning” or “removing an infected file” or the like, they should click on what? Class? Class? NOTHING! Remind your users to call the help desk if they get any suspicious email or pop-up messages on their work-provided computers.

Need a malware policy? Download our template as a free sample of our Ultimate IT Policy Toolkit!

If you don’t have a formal policy in place that tells users how you as IT manager are implementing antivirus solutions on your network, it may be hard to enforce violations of common sense IT policy, like, “don’t click on or download anything you weren’t expecting, even messages about infected files.”

The Malware Security Policy includes several rules that you can customize to define the malware policy for your organization. Here’s the rule that’s relevant to telling users what to do (and not to do) if they encounter malware:

Users must not attempt to eradicate computer viruses. If users suspect infection by a virus, they must immediately call the IT Department and refrain from attempting any type of troubleshooting on their own. Computer virus eradication must only be performed by authorized personnel who have been approved by the IT Department to do that work.

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Have you dealt with ransomware?

If you or your users have encountered ransomware, share your experience by sending an email to [email protected] or by posting a comment below.