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2012-366 Day 216 – Office Communication

Ever do something that you think is completely inconsequential but winds up being a big deal for some reason or another? Had that happen to me at work today when I wrote and email telling someone that I fixed something, and that email wound up being touted by our director as a great example of office communication. Little did I know that yesterday in the management meeting there had been a discussion about some breakdowns in communication around here, and I had timed my contributions just right to be noticed.

This event was set up many months ago when we decided to separate our photo id database from our imaging database. Originally everything worked together on the same server and could use a single window into the central student information system to update all of our systems. The decision was made to put the photo id system onto its own server so that it could be handed off to another area should one want to take it over (yeah, right). This required setting up its own database server and acquiring its own connection to the central student information system. We have no control over this system, and it is notoriously difficult to deal with, so you can imagine what happened.

Alright, maybe you don’t have to imagine. Despite setting everything up exactly the same way and getting a hole put into the firewall, the system never operated correctly. I got it to the point where I could perform updates manually, but the automated overnight updates, which still worked perfectly on the old system, mind you, failed every time with no useful information being produced. Since each update of the entire list of students at the school takes over two hours, it was very difficult to efficiently troubleshoot, and I, of course, had other things going on. The project was back-burnered, with occasional manual updates sufficing, especially during summer.

Unfortunately one problem area kept recurring that was not being addressed by our temporary solution, and that was the area of name changes. It actually seems to happen a lot more than you think, especially in a population of twenty thousand plus students. These changes were not being picked up in the photo id system, so if someone changed their name in the system it would not be reflected when they went to print the id. I could go in and change the name manually in the database, and it would remain changed after that, but we never had to do that before.

A process was proposed where I would get routed the name change forms and update the names in the database. Each change took me about a minute, so it wouldn’t be too difficult so long as there weren’t too many changes going on. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to expect. This encouraged me to reexamine the original problem with an eye towards a more permanent solution. An email was sent out with the new procedure and a notice that it was temporary, while I worked in the background to hack together a better solution to the problem. The solution lagged the email by about two hours, in which time I had accumulated four change of name forms. I waited overnight (last night) to ensure that the solution actually worked in the automated environment, and, when it did, set about composing an email to let them know that the (extremely) temporary solution was no longer necessary. Here’s what I wrote:

As with all things in life, isn’t timing everything? We’re monitoring it currently, but it looks like I finally got the whole system fixed yesterday and everything is now automated again. The latest update got all four name changes that I received without any manual intervention on my part (who am I supposed to route the completed ones to again?), and the updates are once again occurring nightly. Apparently I’m allergic to paperwork.

Anyway, I’m glad you put that temporary line in, because this procedure may be one of our shortest on record. Thanks for your patience, and we’ll let you know if anything goes wrong with the new system (I don’t believe it will). Any names changed in the portal will still take overnight to process in the photo id’s, so in emergencies I can still change them manually, but the system should be far faster to reflect them now.


Little did I know that it would get forwarded to the director, and that they had just had the discussion about communication yesterday. Honestly, it’s no different than most of the emails I write, and you’ll probably recognize my writing style in general pretty much matches up with these blog entries as well. It’s just what I do. It was nice to be recognized, although I certainly have the “it’s nothing special” reaction to my writing. But, hey, I’ll never turn down a pat on the back and “good job.”

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Posted in Matt 2012-366, Matt General. Tagged with , , , .

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