Dr. Mike Essig

Coaching the Technology User Community

It was a Friday afternoon, and we received a call at the Service Desk indicating the gaming floor was down. As usual, a call like this began the standard process for the Technology office – everyone stopped what he or she was doing to investigate. We checked the gaming servers, interfaces and data center and found nothing wrong or offline. This was followed by a tour of the floor to find no “red lights” anywhere. Further investigation and the tracking down of various casino managers and slot employees still revealed no outage. Unable to find anything, we stopped by the Players Club who had reported the problem. The clerk behind the counter indicated that the last few cards he had printed all came back in the hands of upset guests as not working. He checked with his supervisor who said to call IT (old term) and report that the floor was down. The real problem? The first 15 cards in the box had damaged mag stripes on them.

How many of you have received that email or call from your boss while you are at home enjoying a well-pitched baseball game (where the Cubs are soundly thrashing the Brewers, in Milwaukee) on a Tuesday evening? “Are there problems with the network? They’re telling me the network is down?” Of course, one has that initial thought about whether there is something catastrophic taking place at the property. Reality sets in as you realize the classic telephone game has taken place once again. One user has a problem with an application on his or her computer. As she sits frustrated, her supervisor stops by, and the user indicates her computer is down. The supervisor nods and tells the director there are computer network problems. The director tells their CXO the entire network is not working. Said CXO tells Technology the network is down, and it needs to be looked at. The classic Technology trouble ticket logging… report everything is down and the Technology team will drop everything to work on the problem at hand, AMIRITE!?

As Technology leaders, we know that these scenarios are going to happen. Unfortunately, many user communities believe, and are relatively accurate, that by stating, “everything is down,” Technology is going to mobilize all resources at hand. However, we do not need to accept this behavior as the norm. Anytime “everything is down” is reported, actual work, projects and resources are impacted while investigating the non-everything-is-down problem. You may think, “How do I solve this? I cannot simply call “shenanigans” and not investigate the problem!” You are correct, however, you can coach and even train your end-user community how to report Technology problems.

For the non-technologists skeptically reading this article, think about this. If you have a problem that technology is working on, and some other department reports “everything is down” when it is not, your problem is no longer being worked on while “everything is down” is being investigated.

Generally, Technology departments use tracking software for tracking tickets, projects and every other call coming into the department. Technology employees can log trouble tickets called or emailed to Technology, while more robust systems allow end-users to open trouble tickets via a portal or email. As Technology leaders, we can train the end-user community to answer the following questions when they are reporting a technology problem: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and HOW. These may seem obvious, but think about the number of trouble tickets you have seen that include, “Having issues with the computer,” or “User X has a system problem.” (We know you have a problem, what is it?!) And you can see the importance of having these five simple questions answered.

Who: Sometimes the person opening the ticket is not the person having the problem. Resolving a problem is more difficult when the Technology team must search for the person with the problem. Determine who is having the problem, and if that person is not available, find out who else Technology can work with to resolve the reported problem.

What: Describe the problem. This seems obvious, but “having an issue” is one of the most commonly used phrases by those reporting a Technology problem. Maybe the printer is buzzing, the software is popping up an error, the computer is on fire – that is the issue. The “what” question is the problem description and the point in the troubleshooting process where the end user must answer the question, “What is the problem?” If they cannot articulate or describe the challenge encountered, how can Technology resolve the problem?

When: Does the problem only occur when printing a specific report, but not a different report? Or maybe it only happens when a specific person uses a computer, or at a particular time of day? Almost every system has some form of logging available that with a little time frame, can assist in the troubleshooting process. Another critical bit of information the Technology team can use concerns when the problem began? Last week, this morning, ongoing for the past month? Knowing the frequency and timeline can provide insight into the importance of the problem.

Courtesy of iStock

Where: The location is critical. If an edge switch in an IDF fails, an outage would be localized to the computers connected via that IDF. Is it a specific kitchen printer in a restaurant? Does the problem happen only on a certain PC and not on another PC? Is the problem on a specific screen in the hotel application? What is the name of the PC in question? What is the printer in question? Knowing where the problem exists is equally important as knowing what the problem is.

How: Are you able to replicate the problem? How did you get to the point where the error or problem occurred? This is the question answering the process or action performed which revealed the problem.

Technology teams taking the time to educate the end-user community to provide answers to the who, what, where, when and how questions will earn some benefits. First, Technology gains an additional trouble reporting resource capable of providing answers to the frequently asked troubleshooting questions. Imagine not having to have Technology resources devoted to answer calls and emails or being able to reallocate some of those kinds of resources toward projects or more advanced technology tasks.

Second, the correct Technology resources are deployed to each request for assistance or reported problem. Instead of sending the hardware technician to a networking problem, the network engineer is dispatched.

Third, the fire drill mentality of reporting everything being down while providing no details is replaced by a “here are the details” mentality.

Finally, and most importantly, the sixth troubleshooting question can be answered.

Why: Why did the reported problem happen? Was it a rights issue? Was it failed hardware? Was it a training opportunity? The why question provides everyone an opportunity to not only fix the current problem, but resolve the issue so it does not appear again. Perhaps new hardware is required, training for an application, or even additional personnel is needed to truly resolve the problem. The why question is the summation of the five end-user questions.

As with many departments, there are only so many technology resources available to work on problems. When those resources are diverted because of inaccurately reported problems, the delay impacts all users. When end users cannot work on a system or problem, especially guest facing systems, guest service can be impacted. The next time someone incorrectly cries out, “Everything is down!” make sure they know the consequences of their ways.

The views of this article are solely Dr. Mike’s and do not and are not associated with or represent the views of any employer past or present.

Dr. Mike has over 25 years of casino technology experience and 30 years working in hospitality. He started in technology as a vendor before working in various commercial, riverboat, and Native American casino organizations. He has been fortunate enough to be a part of property openings, mergers, expansions, and technology reorganizations. He holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Hospitality Management from UNLV and earned his doctorate in Organizational Management from Capella University. He is the Director of Technology for the Tropicana Hotel & Casino. It is a well-known fact that Mike is a Chicago Cubs fan.