Here’s a fact: technology sometimes breaks. It could be our tech, or your tech, or tech in between like the internet or a banking website. The point is that when enterprises choose to leverage 21st century tools to do business, they have to accept the risk that “the system” may glitch. The alternative is to play the technology blame game.
The blame game’s first rule is to assume that any problem is the other side’s problem. Everyone will be familiar with the classic line “well, I’m getting emails from everyone else. If yours isn’t getting through, the problem isn’t at this end”.
I saw this one in action this week when a Word document under negotiation simply couldn’t be mailed to another firm. We could send, but it was never received.
The problem turned out to be that we had saved the file in Word’s “docm” format, the one that lets you automate a document with time-saving keyboard shortcuts. Because those shortcuts are linked to mini computer programs called macros, some email gateways identify them as potential viruses and block them.
That’s what had been happening to our mail, and the recipients’ gateway was not notifying them that an email with a Word document had been filtered out, with instructions on how to get it checked and released from quarantine.
Playing the blame game, our correspondent curtly suggested that we refrain from sending “unfamiliar” file types – an odd way to describe a standard and very useful Microsoft format that’s been in common use for a decade.
The right approach is for both sides to recognise that the tech had glitched. Then the sender can switch to Word’s simpler “docx” format. The receiver could ask their network administrator to look into a better way to handle alternative file types.
How to handle a glitch
It must have been the week for bugs. Another document under negotiation threw up a problem I had not seen before in nearly 30 years of using Word.
Any lawyer worth their six-minute billable unit of salt knows how to mark up a document with tracked changes that the other side can accept or reject, and most also know how to attach comment balloons to text. After several rounds back and forth, text started vanishing for no apparent reason.
An hour’s head-scratching later, it became clear that the tracked text with a comment attached was being deleted for no apparent reason. I did not know how or why, but the important thing was knowing that we needed to stop using comments in order to stop losing text. Naturally, I alerted the opposite party to the problem and the solution.
Bad call. The next version of the contract arrived with more comment balloons then ever, and a note saying they could see nothing wrong with the file at their end.
Maybe so. Maybe the issue was unique to the version of Word the firm uses, or maybe they just couldn’t understand what was going wrong. But the right solution was still to acknowledge that the tech had glitched and cooperate in finding a work-around. It ended up taking an hour of my life I’ll never get back to identify and reinstate disappeared text.
Equally, when websites of governments, banks or other key third parties play up, all involved need to accept that the gods of glitch have struck again and cooperate to work around the disruption.
I’m no apologist for businesses that run shoddy systems or do crazy things. There are still people who blithely attempt to mail 80MB attachments (please read a beginner’s guide to email), but where things go wrong despite reasonable care, dealing with the fallout from tech failures should be a team effort.