Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech
If you have joined the staff of a small organization, like a church or a startup business like a community coffee shop, you most likely will wear multiple hats. And if your organization has 4 people in it, there is a 25% chance you will be directly responsible for information technology (IT).
Perhaps you studied theology but now find yourself praying prolifically over problems with silicon, and wondering, “How did I get here?” If this is your story, then this article is for you. I’m going to reveal the fundamental secrets of what it takes to be responsible for IT in your office. In part one, let’s look at troubleshooting.
I once had a Magic 8 Ball for IT. It looked like a giant black billiard ball except it was full of fluid and had a 20-sided die inside. When I was in a technology quandary, I could ask my question, shake the ball, and the solution would appear. While the childhood toy had 20 possible answers, 10 sides of the IT 8 Ball die said the same thing, “Reboot It,” and very often it was right. If you are experiencing an aberrant technology behavior that occurs once a month or less, then simply restarting the piece of equipment may be the fix.
Check the Internet
If the problem occurs more persistently, or if restarting does not work, the next step is to search the Internet. Start with your favorite search engine and describe the problem as concisely as possible, omitting personal details and including technical ones. For example, if the problem is that solid bands of color appear on the page each time the children’s pastor prints the schedule for volunteers, don’t search for “children’s pastor prints color bars on volunteer schedule.” Instead, search for “color bands appear on (printer name and model number)”. In many instances, some helpful person who experienced the same thing has shared a solution they discovered. Not all sources of information are to be equally valued, so exercise judgment as you consider suggestions.
Reliable sources I routinely use are Microsoft Technet, Spiceworks forums, and individual bloggers. If the solution you find suggests buying or downloading a piece of software as the answer, be skeptical and check to see if there is another site which affirms this solution. Sometimes these overly specific utilities contain malware, don’t exactly match the problem you’re facing, or are unnecessary to fix the problem. If you don’t find help with a general Internet search, then look for a forum focused on the specific technology you are working with. Often system vendors have help desks or community discussion boards dedicated to their products. For example, ssplash.com is a community forum focused on SongShow Plus worship planning software.
If those solution paths do not lead to an answer, you may need to do some technology problem-solving. The first step is to identify the elements which associated with the problem. Think of it as identifying the links in a chain. I often draw a little diagram to help identify these links. Let’s say the problem is that when the head of the organization is in a meeting with her laptop and tries to print, nothing happens. What are the links in the chain: The specific file to be printed -> Microsoft Excel -> Laptop -> Wireless Network -> Wired Network -> Printer. Once you have identified the links in the chain, do a test that changes one or two links in the chain to narrow down which link is broken. In my example above, ask her to try printing from Microsoft Word, if that works, then you know the problem is something in Excel or the troublesome document. If the test fails, then try another link in the chain. Perhaps open a browser on that PC and see if you can browse the Internet, if you cannot, then the laptop’s connection to the wireless network is likely the problem. This process of identifying the elements of a workflow and devising tests for each item will aid you tremendously in managing an office full of technology.
And finally, you can contact the vendor for support. Depending on the urgency of the problem, you might open a support ticket with the vendor early on as it may take a while for them to respond. You can then investigate possible solutions on your own while waiting for a response. Vendor support varies widely in quality, but if it is available take advantage of it, as good vendors want to help you be successful and continue to use their product. If the vendor leads you to the solution, ask questions so you understand how the fix worked. This may help with a similar problem next time.
These four approaches will often lead to solutions and restore the recalcitrant piece of technology. You know you have arrived as an IT guru when someone on your team asks you to stand near them as they know that your presence will be enough to fix it!
If you grow weary of each day being the same as it ever was, filled with resolving technical issues, then read part two next time for proactive steps you can take to reduce IT drama and find time to put on your other hat.
Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.