Whether you’re an end-user, a system administrator or a consultant, there’s a Help Desk looming somewhere in your work. But every answer a person gets to keep them working does not necessarily come from that Help Desk.

For those on large projects, it’s not uncommon to turn to others on the project for help. This is the fastest and easiest way to get some help to keep a person working. For the most common questions, this is a good situation to be in. It’s better than writing to someone or calling them and waiting for a response. The person who needs the assistance gets an immediate answer and has no downtime.

Help Desks
Beyond turning and asking someone, when a user or system administrator have issues they must resolve, they’re usually calling some type of Help Desk, although not necessarily the same one (one might be calling their corporate help desk, the other might be calling that or might be calling the software vendor’s help desk). But here’s where the separation starts to happen.

Playing by the Rules
When a laboratory informatics project’s software truly has a bug, that should always be reported to the software vendor’s help desk. Some of you will complain to me that that’s pointless and nothing will happen. Sometimes, it just feels that way to the person waiting for it to be fixed, other times, it’s true that some software vendors are more responsive than others. Still, the unwritten rule is that you have to give them a chance to fix them. If we all don’t obey this unwritten rule, we don’t even give the software vendor a chance to fix the problem and make the system better. If they don’t actually do it then it’s not because the rest of us didn’t give them the opportunity.

Note to all: I always tell customers to follow this rule. For any software vendor reading this, I do always push customers to report their bugs to the vendor’s help desk. Here, I’m not using the word “always” in a casual way, I mean that I do actually ALWAYS follow this rule.

Actually Getting Help
The problem with reporting a bug, of course, is that is has to be a true bug and has to be able to be reliably repeated so that the software vendor’s help desk can see exactly what is happening. However, when there are problems we can’t pin down, we are often left to get help in other ways. Also, there are times when we need help and it’s not an issue of a bug but more a question about one thing or another. Possibly we know we are doing something wrong but are having difficulties figuring out what it is. Some people won’t admit to doing anything wrong, ever, but I’d rather ask around if I think someone else will know the answer than waste a lot of my customer’s time fiddling endlessly with something I think someone else might know an answer to – why waste my customer’s money that way, is my thought?

Here’s the problem: help desks and other tools in our industry are usually good for helping new users and junior people with more routine questions. Being an experienced person, over the years, and independent of the situation, I’ve found that most of my questions can only be answered by other experienced people, and often they don’t even know the answer.

It can be frustrating for experienced people because we look difficult when we don’t use some of the more popular tools to get answers to our questions. We look “difficult” when we take other avenues. So, oftentimes, we waste our time playing silly games posting questions to places where we know we won’t get answers, first, before going out to find real answers. This is the way this game is played and probably won’t ever change. It wastes so much of our customer’s time.

Bottom Line
One of my goals in creating the LIMS/Laboratory Informatics group in LinkedIn is so that anyone could get their questions answered, no matter how esoteric but find myself castigated for doing this. The impression I get from some of the software vendors is that they want all questions on their software to go through their own tools. However, whether or not they offer their tools to outsiders (and some actually do), and no matter how much they market these tools as being the place to find these answers, few if any of them can help the advanced users, leaving advanced users between the same rock and hard place they’ve always been between. And for those software vendors that will try to claim I only have the problem because I’m an independent, I claim that’s not true – I’m including my past experience from working as an employee or subcontractor on projects, as well.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

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