Installation not always a snap

Sometimes I wonder whether vendors give any thought to the poor souls who have to install their products. Very few of them have us figured out.

For example, we were upgrading a server this weekend, and had to install new rails in the rack. The rails snapped into place in the rack in something

less than 30 seconds, and we had the equipment secured to them in another two or three minutes, yet they came with an installation manual that repeatedly said that these rails were to be installed by factory-trained technicians.

I wonder how long they train for.

Most of us who work on computers have mastered Lego-style snap-ins. We can even read instructions. But even someone whose VCR flashes 12:00 could have popped these rails in.

What a funny world. On one hand, a click-click install takes factory training. On the other hand, some of the supposed do-it-yourself kits that arrive on our doorsteps need an engineering degree to fathom.

The difference between the two is often as much in the quality of the documentation as in the design of the equipment.

Sadly, even world-class companies either don’t put enough emphasis on documentation, or seemingly lack the wherewithal to produce it.

Even if you do get docs of some form, chances are they’re – um – creatively written. This is not necessarily a slur on the authors, whose text probably read just fine in the original language, whatever it was. But the English translations we receive are often pretty fractured, with errors in spelling and grammar, and even in the interpretation of some words.

Many native English speakers produce equally bad instructions; they just don’t have the excuse that they don’t understand the language well (or perhaps they do have an excuse, given what is coming out of our education system . . . however, that’s another story).

This means that anyone trying to use the product may have challenges beyond those we’d expect. Even if they do read the flippin’ manual, it’s hard to follow instructions that make no sense.

Remember those gifts (‘Some assembly required’) you spent Christmas Eve trying to get ready for the kids? It’s the same syndrome. Insert tab A into Slot B, if you can make out from the blurry picture or hastily produced graphic where Tab A and Slot B are.

The IT versions of those assembly instructions can have more drastic consequences than frayed tempers and drowsy dads. Insert a circuit card the wrong way, and it could be damaged beyond salvation. Put batteries in backwards, and you could get a nice explosion. Plug in wires wrong, and your equipment could flunk the smoke test. Yet the illustrations are just as blurry and hard to read as the ones for a kid’s bike.

Even if you do manage to mate the elusive tab and slot, if there’s a problem troubleshooting instructions are usually vague at best, non-existent at worst. You’ve got to wonder if these folks are just masochists, or really enjoy spending money on preventable technical support.

It ain’t rocket science. It doesn’t cost all that much extra to produce something that’s easy for VARs or their customers to install – it just takes a little thought.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree

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