Friday, June 17, 2011

SOP Friday: Nuking and Paving

There are extremely rare occasions when a computer needs to be "nuked and paved" - or completely reinstalled. Basically, a nuke and pave job is done for one of three reasons:

1. The technician is not able to fix the computer

2. There is a problem (e.g., a virus) that will take too many hours and is therefore not worth the cost

3. The problem cannot be fixed

When do you nuke and pave and when do you walk away?

SOP Friday: Nuking and Paving

- Overview -

The second option is completely a financial decision. If you have an old, slow PC running an old operating system, and it has a monster virus, you probably won't spend ten hours of labor trying to fix it. You shouldn't work for free, and the client doesn't want to pay $1,500 to fix a ten year old computer.

. . . unless it's the only machine in the office with a true RS-232 port and connects to their manufacturing system. Or the payroll computer the day before payroll. Or the last machine in the office that runs a critical piece of software.

Obviously you're going to do everything you can upgrade such machine, replace them, have contingencies, etc. But there just are some machines that have to be fixed, no matter what the cost.

For the average "old piece of junk" machine, however, you will nuke and pave because you can reinstall the O.S. and all software in 3-4 hours. The client might decide that they'd rather spend that 3-4 hours having you set up a new machine on the network. But, again, that's a financial decision.

It is really important that you have this discussion with a client before the machine dies (or is infected). It is hard to make a decision at the last minute. It's much easier if you can just look up the "Nuke and Pave Policy" for that client and refer to it.

"Mr. Client: As we discussed six months ago, the general policy is that we will not rebuild or spend more than three hours labor fixing up the machines with Windows XP. Are you still comfortable with that decision?"

Decisions made before the disaster are often more rational and can be a good starting point when there IS a problem.

A Note on Competency

Options 1 and 3 ("The technician is not able to fix the computer" vs. "The problem cannot be fixed") can be a tough call some times. Everyone seems to think that it's easy to be a computer tech. I guess this is because everyone can use a computer.

There are some computers that just can't be fixed. But the reality is that 99% of all problems can be fixed if you have the right skills and enough time (money) to spend on the problem. In practice, I would say that most competent technicians can fix 95% of all problems.

An incompetent technician (thinks he knows a lot, but doesn't really much) can probably fix 80% of all problems. The difference is pretty huge. Incompetent technicians therefore spend a lot more time nuking and paving because it's the blunt instrument they know will fix the problem.

These folks tend to say things like "Microsoft knows this is a problem. Everyone has this problem. There's nothing we can do about it."

Let's be honest: We all start out incompetent. Everything is difficult before it becomes easy. But once we decide we want to do something for a living, we have an obligation to educate ourselves and take it seriously.

It hurts all of us when incompetent technicians take on tasks they can't handle. Clients become suspicious. They view our profession as one step above used car salesmen. On some days, not above.

Therefore: I think it is in your best interest to minimize the number of Nuke and Pave jobs.

Ideally, in your business, the financial calculation of #2 above will be the most important determining factor in whether you'll fix a computer. If competence is the most important factor, then you need to start tackling some tougher jobs and learn how actually fix this stuff.

Nuke and Pave should be a last resort.

- Implementation Notes -

There are two policies to implement here.

First, your company should have a simple policy statement. One paragraph is good enough. It should state that your company policy is to avoid reinstalling the operating system as much as possible as a way to "fix" problems. It should then state a simple limit on how much time you will spend on a problem. For example:

    "It the policy of our company to avoid reinstalling the operating system as much as possible as a way to fix problems. But any technician who has worked on any problem for 60 minutes without making significant progress is required to seek assistance. This assistance might be from the service manager, a vendor, or an approved back office assistance service. In any case where a desktop service ticket has consumed three or more hours of labor, the service manager will decide how we will proceed."

Second, you need to help your clients adopt similar guidelines. How much time should be spent fixing various classes of computers? In some businesses, the "classes" would be operating systems - W7, Vista, XP, 2000, etc. In other businesses, it will be by department, such as sales, finance, etc.

- Benefits -

Whenever possible, the decision to nuke and pave a computer should be a business decision and a financial decision. You might really be able to fix 99% of problems instead of 95%, but if you lose money doing it, then you have to decide whether this is a hobby or a business.

As a business, you need to cut your losses. So many technicians are tempted to give away hours on long jobs. That just encourages the clients to never upgrade because it costs them nothing extra to keep old, crappy computers!

Eventually, this policy will help clients accept that it's cheaper in the long run to buy good equipment (and replace old equipment) than to fix up the old stuff.

The long-term effect for clients is a bunch of computers that work work better, are more efficient, and keep their employees working!

The more you can make decisions based on sound financial considerations, the more money you'll make.

- Forms -

There are no specific forms for implementing this SOP. You might write up a brief description of the procedure and put it into your SOP or binder.

This kind of policy requires that everyone on the team

1) Be aware of the policy

2) Practice the policy

3) Correct one another's errors

4) Support one another with reminders

Your Comments Welcome.


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  1. Excellent SOP article as usual Karl. We've had a similar policy here for years, but it's nice to see how someone else in the industry handles it.

  2. With all these small SOP's, how do you organize them? If they are stored electronically, how do you describe the file that houses the SOP?

  3. Gary - see on organizing files and folders.

    With the \operations\processes and procedures directory you will name files with keywords first. For example, "Employee Onboarding" and not "How to Onboard employees." In this way, all the employee procedures are together, backup procedures are together, etc.


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