When all else fails, trot out the dog and the pony


Flashback to 1984, when this pilot fish is working at a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. -- and PCs are about to arrive in the office.

"My users love their IBM Displaywriter stand-alone word processors," says fish. "But PCs can do more, and our IBM salesman assures them that DisplayWrite 2 software, which is a port of the Displaywriter software that runs on the PC, will work just fine. And the staff doesn't have to be retrained!

"But this nonprofit does a lot of mail merges asking members for donations with customized letters. Initial test of the PC with DisplayWrite 2 shows that a mail merge could take up to 30 minutes."

The organization's bosses figure that tradeoff is OK. Their logic: "We can just start using PCs with DisplayWrite 2 without having to retrain users to the new system. Think of the time we'll save on retraining."

But fish has been using WordPerfect, and has seen a full mail merge run much, much faster. Is it really saving time if users have to sit and watch a mail merge for 30 minutes? fish asks.

"No training" the bosses say. "It will cost too much down time to have the secretarial staff learn a whole new system."

In desperation, fish sets up two identical PCs in the conference room -- except that one is loaded with DisplayWrite 2 and the other has WordPerfect. Each one has the same list of names and the same fundraising letter.

Fish walks the bosses in, explains what the demonstration is about, and then starts the mail merge on each machine.

"WordPerfect is done in less than a minute," fish says. "DisplayWrite 2 chugs along doing its half-hour merge, as I explain that the PC is unusable until the mail merge is finished. Think of the down time now, I say.

"So I win. I get to put WordPerfect on each new PC, and each staff member gets two days of retraining. It doesn't make me popular with the staff, though -- they liked the old system, as well as the extra time that 'waiting for the computer' gave them."

You don't have to wait -- send Sharky your story right now. Email your true tale of IT life to me at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll get a stylish Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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