Sunday, February 05, 2012 2:02 AM
Context: I'm running a small firm which is currently in the process of taking over the hosting facilities of another company. To that end I've been copying dozens of websites from 3 physical servers onto several virtual servers hosted elsewhere. Although I had a plan of action setup; last week in the middle of the project the major server (running most websites) broke down. And that's when all hell broke loose. 25+ customers in trouble who needed to be informed and their problems needed to be resolved and only myself around to do it (one man company).
There are still a couple of issues to be addressed at the time of writing but most of those only require some time and effort. Still; I've been going at it for several days now (this is NOT your average 8-hour daytime job!) so now its time for a little R&R, a good night sleep and then back to duty.
What is the most important aspect in this situation besides solving problems?
- Keeping customers informed about what is going on.
- Keeping track (overview) of what needs to be done.
- In addition to the previous point: keep track of what has been done (and how!).
- Making sure to document all solutions (when working under stress its easy to forget something over night).
Bold statement: I dare say that I couldn't have done it without Office 2010, and that is the story I'm going to share here. My own story is that I'm by far a 'beancounter' but a sysadmin by heart.
Ok. Due to the problems at hand I sped up the migration process and started copying sites and data over onto other servers as long as the server was still responsive. Webmin played a bit role here too, but right now I'm focussing on Office 2010 (expect a Webmin success story elsewhere).
First action: informing customers.
Using Outlook 2010 and Business Contact Manager I got all customer contact information right at my fingertips. I needed to send out a global warning about what was going on fast. Now; the worst thing to do is to create an e-mail, address it to one customer and CC the rest. It may sound like a good idea; but always think about privacy. Does 'customer A' like his (perhaps private?) contact information shared with 'customer B' ?
BCC: Blind Carbon Copy. Here is where Outlook starts to shine. Click "new message", then click on "To" or "CC" and and the "contact person" screen comes up. Which allows you to select contacts for "To", "CC" and "BCC". Better yet: Outlook can skip the 'To' address if you already have addresses in the BCC field! So you sent out a message to several people without sharing any of their addresses with it. First problem solved (I know for a fact that Thunderbird cannot do this!).
Second action: Keep track of problems.
At the time of writing my e-mail all websites were copied, customer e-mail had been re-routed and copied over but people would soon notice that their website had issues. I had spotted some myself but hardly everything (in 1.5 days (I worked all night long) thats impossible with 25+ websites).
So I could expect customer complaints. Either by phone or by e-mail. Phone wouldn't be a problem since I already had that one covered by OneNote. Talk to the customer, write up details in OneNote and then address those at a proper time. Doesn't have to take up too much time. Heck; even if I need reminders then I can easily link my OneNote snippet with an Outlook follow up (which I've explained in a previous post).
But what about e-mail? I can't simply think "Ok, got it" and continue to work without giving some kind of feedback. But giving feedback would also mean not working to solve problems. Time is key.
First idea: automated replies. People sent e-mail, Outlook picks it up and sends a reply. But what would happen if I needed more information? People would then e-mail me info and immediately be greeted with an automated reply again which could confuse them. So on second thought; I'd better not.
Second idea: sent a quick reply "ok got it", move the message to a separate folder (to keep track of problems) and continue work. Moving stuff manually while working under stress will cause problems. Maybe not right now, but eventually you will slip up. And automating was once again a bad idea; I only needed problem reports marked.
My solution (not claiming its the best, but it worked miracles for me): "Quick steps":
See the "LoSoCo (re)actie" ? That's what I'm talking about; once again Outlook to the rescue. Now; I decided against copying e-mails to a separate folder because I feared it might actually confuse me eventually (going straight on without sleep... you will lose focus here and there). As such I decided to use another cool Outlook feature: Categories. This allows you to apply a 'tag' to e-mails, which will then allow you to keep track of them.
And so the idea was formed. And because you can also assign shortcuts to these 'quick steps' it would become very easy to respond to a problem report as fast as possible while also making sure that the customer wouldn't feel left out:
Now, to take a step back for those of you who don't know "Quick steps": This allows you to chain together several actions which need to be performed on an e-mail. And the beauty here is that it can be triggered with the press of a key.
SO.. an e-mail comes in, I spot a problem report which hasn't been addressed yet and simply hit control-shift-5. The customer gets an automated respons which explains that I read his report and will address it within a couple of hours. Then it marks the problem with the category "@openpost" which allows me to keep track of problems which I haven't solved yet. Finally it creates an Outlook task just to make sure that should I do manage to overlook the problem (checking categories is still something to do manually) then I'll get reminded of it the next day anyhow.
Third action: Keep track of what has been done (and how!).
Obviously I'm not going to share company information, but lets just say that an enforced move from a website running on PHP4 to an environment using the current PHP5 can sometimes cause issues. Solvable issues, but still.
OneNote to the rescue here. A lot of websites used the same code and libraries, so as soon as I discovered that certain changes to a php library (php file) were the solution to the problem, all I had to do was keep track of that solution. When selecting something in PuTTY (a Windows SSH / Telnet client) it will immediately get copied onto the clipboard. So only a mere Win-N (fire up OneNote) and paste was enough to save the changes I did.
And don't forget about searching for answers. I'm a sysadmin, not a PHP programmer. So in certain cases I had to rely on Bing and Google to find answers. When using MSIE its very easy to store possible candidates since MSIE allows me to send a whole webpage to OneNote with the click of the mouse.
Now all that was left to do was to inform the customer and clear the previously set category (by simply clicking on it, by default that clears assigned categories).
SO basically; both Outlook and OneNote were key factors here. Even the documentation part was completely done using OneNote.
To me this is solid proof that Office 2010 can also support 'techies' much more than they might realize. Heck; the direct Office competition (which I sincerely respect, make no mistake about it; you will never see me bad mouthing the OpenOffice project) simply cannot handle certain aspects which Office 2010 can. For starters; OneNote is something exclusive for Office 2010, the competition never tried to come up with something similar (which I personally consider a major loss on their part).
Alas.. There you have it. Real life story.
I don't claim that I came up with the "perfect" solutions for the problems I had to face, but I do dare state that I couldn't have done this so easily without Office 2010. That I strongly believe.
With kind regards, Peter
- Edited by ShelLuser Monday, February 06, 2012 9:35 PM For some reason the pictures ended up missing