When Technology Fails, You Do Too

Melissa Brand , Staff writer


neiuport screenshot
Screenshot by Melissa Brand

An NEIUport outage was scheduled for Feb. 8 through Feb. 12, 2013 and was expected to cause only a minor inconvenience for students. That was the case until late afternoon on Feb. 12, 2013, when a significant portion of NEIU students discovered they could not access Blackboard, Desire2Learn or NMail. Since school was closed for Lincoln’s Birthday, many were left in academic limbo, unable to do tests, finish homework or access files needed to complete tasks. NEIU’s main Facebook page became a dumping ground for those in need of support but unable to get it.

According to Kim Tracy, Chief Information Officer who is currently responsible for University Technology Services including the help desk, the outages were caused by several errors. A file feed that is created for new students and employees had an error that, “Caused duplicate accounts to be created for individuals, thereby making mail not be deliverable,” said Tracy. “In fixing that issue, we inadvertently ran a system function that disabled many accounts, because the passwords were expired in those accounts.  Because these accounts were disabled in the system there was no way to systematically re-enable them with the prior password.”

When students called the help desk on Feb 12, no one was there to take the calls because NEIU was closed for the holiday. The help desk opened on Wednesday morning and it seemed so overwhelmed, that calls and emails went unanswered for several hours according to frantic posts on the NEIU Facebook page. Students continued to post their frustrations on Facebook saying they couldn’t reach anyone to help them throughout the day. This was a university-wide issue and should have been treated as such with more employees and less attitude.

Communication about fixes for the disabled accounts was inexplicably slow. Eventually information was posted on the NEIUport page about what students should do to get their account fixed, but most couldn’t access that. The administrator of the NEIU Facebook page started answering posts followed up by Tracy who offered students his email address to help them as soon as he could. This was not an efficient way to get anything done. Most students still didn’t know how to get the issue corrected and every time they called the help desk, they received no answer.

“There are approximately 10 [employees] that either work for the help desk or are supporting technicians,” said Tracy, who also had some of his other staff helping out. Considering the size of the university and the potential for outages like this, 10 is relatively a small number of employees to work the help desk. Since Technology Services knew about the issue they caused when they ran the wrong function, they should have been more proactive about getting the university back on track faster and maintained better notification.