This past weekend I replaced my over-the-range microwave oven. While the process of replacing it was pretty unremarkable, it was the process that led me to replace it and the result that were interesting. It got me thinking about the process by which IT groups ultimately choose to refresh infrastructure and solutions.
Let me explain what happened with my old microwave oven.
Event #1 – About 3 years ago or so, the front handle of the microwave broke off. I’m not sure how it happened, my sister and two of my nieces were living with me at the time, but it broke off pretty completely. No big deal. It was not hard to grab the door from underneath and open it and push it closed. It was a minor inconvenience. I wasn’t interested in replacing it.
Event #2 – Around 6 months to a year after the handle broke, the sensor or mechanism on the door that determined whether the door was closed started failing intermittently. When you closed the door, the microwave might or might not start. You might have to open and shut the door multiple times before it started. Annoying. Did the broken door handle and the way we were now opening the door contribute to this fault? Unknown. It was annoying but the microwave still worked. Another level of inconvenience but I was willing to live with it.
Event #3 – Add 6 more months and the carousel failed. It started failing on and off but finally failed completely. Again, the microwave still “worked” in that it emitted microwaves and heated food but now the food needed to be rotated every 15 seconds or so to prevent hotspots. Of course, the fact that I had to open and close the door to rotate the food only made the problem of the failing door sensor more acute. It was becoming pretty inconvenient to use. But it still worked.
That should have been the last straw, right? Nope. Of course, I thought about replacing it. It was somewhere on my to-do list, but by then I had been slowly acclimating myself to the inconvenience and finding workarounds. Workarounds included things like using the conventional oven more and eating out more often. More leftovers were left to spoil in the fridge. I was modifying my behavior to adjust to the inadequacies of the microwave.
Event #4 – My sister and nieces had moved out a year ago or so, and now my girlfriend had moved in. She didn’t demand I replace the microwave or anything. There was no nagging. There was no pressure. But I wanted to replace it because I wanted her to have a reliable microwave oven. So, I finally replaced it.
My old microwave, “Old Unreliable,” pictured above, was a Frigidaire microwave. I am not knocking Frigidaire in any way. It served me well for many years before this journey to replacement. I have many other Frigidaire appliances I’m still using today.
Why did I wait so long? It was not terribly expensive to replace nor difficult. With “Old Unreliable”, I was costing myself time and money by letting good leftovers go to waste and being predisposed to eating at restaurants because I was inconvenienced by the microwave. I haven’t tried to calculate it but I am sure I racked up restaurant bills over the course of avoiding the old microwave that exceeded the cost of the new microwave, by a lot. All those tasty leftovers gone to waste…
I believe this overall scenario happens pretty regularly in IT. Admins and users have to deal with solutions that are inconvenient to use, prone to failure, and that incur secondary costs in excess management and maintenance.
IT Admins are expected to be able to engineer some workarounds when needed, but the more workarounds needed, the more expertise and knowledge needed, which can become costly. Consider also that constantly working around clunky implementations does not usually lead to efficient productivity or innovation. As with my microwave journey, there is a point where it starts costing more to keep the existing solution rather than investing in a new solution. Those costs are sometimes subtle and grow over time, and like a frog in a pot of water, we don’t always notice when things are heating up.
How much could be gained in productivity, cost saving, and user satisfaction by investing in a new solution? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” can only take you so far, and does not foster innovation and growth. Rather than becoming comfortable with an inadequate solution and workarounds, consider what improvements could be made with newer technology.