icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an 

ongoing web column edited and published by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.


Chronological Index | Subject Index

The printers’ job

Every little helps with assured computing

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2017). The printers’ job. Every little helps with assured computing. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 6.7 (July).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2017). The printers’ job. Every little helps with assured computing. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 6.7 (July).
Full-text accessible at http://www.brunellalongo.co.uk/

London, 22 January 2018 - The idea that our brain is all about avoiding threats and seeking rewards as many psychologists, communication experts and neuroscientists explain at any possible occasion is a very simplistic one. Everybody seriously interested in building a culture of change management in their organisation should consider the risks and unintended consequences of trivialising scientific communication.

Undoubtedly, the idea of referring to our limbic areas to explain in few minutes complex reactions and interactions among people dealing with conflicts, unforeseen circumstances, disruptions of their routines etc. may work fine. But also light plays a role as an important modulator of brain function and cognition. It is useful to remind people the role of good temper and good relationships but ignorance of one’s own feelings and prejudices, rights and aambitions matters too. And what about abuses? how do people with different levels of scientific literacy react to a natural disaster? how do people fight, in practice, situations in which they are confronted and surrounded by or witness a crime? what do we do and check if we have a fever? or when you have to print and post something by 4pm to get a payment and your computer system, suddenly, does not work as expected?

Why IT change management programmes fail?

The other day a colleague very much in demand of some help on a wicked organisational situation pointed my attention toward a concise post within a thread on a Microsoft Windows 10 forum that exemplified at the same time the lack of change management culture and why change management experts often clamorously fail to address the issues they aspire to solve because some design and operational issues are out of sight, have not been analysed or considered at all.

The thread reads as it follows (I copy and paste here the question and the two replies I refer to but feel free to explore yourself more within the hundreds of posts on this issue available via answers.microsoft.com searching “Printer settings Windows 10”):

I think it is basically impossible not to laugh or smile at the reaction of CynMeyers!

Everybody who has used at least a couple of versions of Windows knows how it feels (I have used them all, starting from the ancestor OS/2, so I feel a bit of a veteran!).

The unfortunate user had the same canned answer as other hundreds of users who have asked the same question so far: that is, in fact, the best possible strictly technical answer that Microsoft Customer Services can use to assist when, after an upgrade, you encounter problems with your printers’ settings. But everybody can notice that the detailed message provided by Sayan_Ghosh suggests an amazingly complicated (and time consuming) trial and error strategy.

That is not what actually the customer needs and has asked for!

The customer needs to print something as he was used to do before the upgrade, and that is not possible anymore. Following the trial and error strategy would, at its best, move the goalpost: the user would investigate possible underline causes of the reported issue and would provide further evidences of certain variations in the system’s performance but he would not have any certainty of the reasonable timescale needed to find a solution, he has not had any actual anticipation of a positive troubleshooting session.

I suggested my colleague to look at his own complicated situation from other point of views, involving some contractual and legal obligations on the side of their suppliers as well as their HR policies, because in his circumstances I could not really help more. There was no time for troubleshooting of technical problems. For sure he had not too much time to try to explain his managing director what had happened in terms of cortical and limbic brains neither!

But I am reporting here the solution I have applied in a similar occasion that I believe exemplifies what can be done to improve our general understanding of daily, ordinary IT change management issues.

How to make your printers’ wizards behave

In January last year I offered my local post office support and advice to fix a problem that was upsetting everybody willing to use the available computer in order to print a document in that: no matter how many times they tried to choose to print in grayscale they always got printouts in colour. At that point, the Post Office Officer would charge for a colour print and the customer would complain because that colour copy was not at all intentional. The Post Office Manager would call their IT remote administrators (or service provider help desk) as soon as there were no queues in the shops and - at the cost of not less than other 30 or 40 minutes time for troubleshooting over the phone - the issue would be sorted just to come back exactly in the same way the day after or at the next customer shouting or refusing to pay the unwanted colour printouts.

I offered my professional intervention to solve the problem once and for all so that we could maintain peace in the shop and prevent bursts of anger or unsafe quarrels among certain very ill-tempered members of the community.

I said I would spend not more than 15 minutes and I would charge the Post Office the fixed symbolic fee of £20, vat included. In fact, I said it would be unethical to charge more or suggest to call me anytime the problem would reappear, as the same Post Office employees were sadly expecting me to do! Instead, I said I would write down few paragraphs of very plain instructions with screenshots of the pertinent Windows menus and settings, so that they would repeat the procedure of changing the configuration - if needed - until they would learn it by heart and know exactly what to do and what to say with customers requiring different printers’ settings or with their contracted IT service provider.

I had already identified the printers issue as a possible new type of “unsolvable” and yet very typical issue created by conflictual parts of Windows 10 the architecture of which - now with cloud based services and other innovative technologies - allows end users and administrators to enjoy computing and entertainment through an unprecedented number of devices, applications and layers of services, interacting with each other non always in predictable ways, and always at the cost of less transparency and general understanding of the controls that system administrators or advanced users can put in place through a little jungle of administrative templates and rules (group policies).

These technical policies in my opinion can hardly provide that absolute integrated analytic capability boosted as a revolutionary feature of some very expensive systems available on the information security market too. In fact, printouts can be tracked and correlated to other data to reconstruct (or fabricate) a context that makes sense for a certain action or a certain judgement within an intelligence or a counter intelligence scenario.

In sum, exploiting poor design of Windows remote administration, group policies or features does not seem an effective and efficient way to assure neither computer help support nor cyber security. Making sure that a public computer does what its customers expect from it - in terms of printouts quality and features, especially in a commercial environment often overcrowded with people from disadvantaged background - seem a good way to keep troublemakers away.

My intervention consisted in simply changing the overall way in which the printers are supposed to manage colour settings on that particular system, independently from any specific application, and in that was quick and successful as I had anticipated. I also wrote few words of suggestions aimed at the remote system administrator in order for them to be aware that the preferred colour settings on the system was now greyscale and the Post Office employees had instructions inclusive of screenshots in order to deal with the issue themselves in case this reappeared.

The printer at the Post Office now handles printouts in greyscale by default and when occasionally they need to print in colour I am told they know how to do the trick themselves without need to call me or their help desk.

Conclusions

This minimal job seems to me quite exemplar of the type of basic and yet extremely important jobs available in the gig economy in that: no matter how minimal, they can have a huge impact in terms of information security - and also peaceful and efficient and effective social interactions! In fact, troubleshooting a problem on a Microsoft Windows public computer can potentially affect other policies defined by a remote administrator and increase the risks of (or interfere with) illicit exfiltration and collection of personal and other confidential data, potentially on a massive scale.

As far as I can see from the Microsoft Answers and Support websites, at the beginning of 2018 the printers settings issue of Windows 10 is still unsorted. It is still upsetting many users. Of course we can keep smiling at the innumerable “damned” Microsoft Windows issues as usual. But I believe we should at least attempt stop trivialising flaws in software architecture, policies and wizards and look at them as unacceptable. We tolerate toddlers to urinate out of their pots for a limited time after which the responsible parents call in the doctors. Like our brain, also software dependability (that is the capacity of a system to avoid service failures) requires more respect and occasionally special shoes.

In many circumstances computer dependability problems are today the direct consequence of development that has gone too far in spite of poor fundamentals and absence of controls at an earlier stage, nobody wants to investigate further. Software engineers should have the courage and initiative to act and rewrite their own operating systems (as I wrote also in The firewalls, the filters and the logged off.)

There is no way for many users to acquire change management or further computer skills if they do not understand first of all that there is no magical solution that works once and for all in computing. The simplicity and immediacy of any computer task is indeed obtained through interactions and decisions that have been carefully (or not) designed. The “wizards” in Microsoft operating systems have created expectations of rapidity and precision that are totally inconsistent with their actual function and functioning. These special ways to address problems and communicate with some visual aids were invented to just make easier for software programmers to exploit computing in a commercial way, offering everybody fantastic opportunities to automate simple productivity tasks and the possibility to interact with a system through hopefully univocal visual signs (graphical user interfaces or GUI) instead of using keyboards and coded commands.

That does not mean that a Windows 10 computer can understand that you have to print and post something by 4 pm to avoid fines, not even if you shout at it through your beautiful Alexa or Siri device!