When Life Gives You Lemons: Embracing Challenges in the IT SpaceTravis Carter | Manager of Enrollment Information Systems for Continuing and Professional Education, Virginia Tech
In today’s world, we constantly find ourselves benefiting from never-ending advances in technology. Oftentimes, the “latest and greatest” technology or device is already outdated by the time it makes it to market. We have all grown accustomed to technology making our lives so much easier in ways we would have never even dreamed possible just a few years ago.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that many of us struggle when technology falls short of providing us with everything that we desire. Although it can be quite frustrating when faced with technological limitations, we ultimately have two choices: blame the technology and its developers, or view the situation as an opportunity to think outside the box.
Everyone in the technology world has either said or heard the statement, “Sorry, but the system doesn’t allow that.” This statement is often met with a mixture of frustration and fear, but it should be met with the same curiosity and passion for problem solving that initially led each of us to pursue a career in technology. Rather than spending our time drafting a cleverly worded email to team members or clients explaining the situation, we should embrace the challenge to find another solution or workaround.
Our response to any roadblock should be to analyze the problem, understand each of our systems’ capabilities and limitations, and develop a viable a solution that utilizes all available resources.
As manager of enrollment information systems at Virginia Tech’s Continuing and Professional Education department, I recently found myself in a similar situation regarding the needs of a conference organizer and the capabilities of our online registration system. The conference organizer needed each registrant to build their own conference schedule as part of the enrollment process. These enrollment counts were necessary for room assignments and attendance tracking purposes. While our registration system allows for users to build their schedule, there is no way to force them to do so since the session selection page follows the checkout screen. Therefore, users could technically register for the program without ever building their schedule.
Since client satisfaction is our top priority, simply dismissing this request as a “system limitation” was not an option.
As we started to explore all possible options, it was first suggested that members of our registration staff could monitor enrollment reports for users who did not build their schedule, and reach out to them individually. Although this was the simplest solution, it was also be the most labor-intensive since registration for the program spanned several months. Knowing that we had a viable contingency plan, it was time to explore more creative solutions. Considering enrollment reports were being generated daily from our registration system’s database, it was only natural to see if an additional report could be setup to only show registrants without a conference schedule. As I started looking into the report setup, not only did I find that this report could be created, but it could already be formatted in such a way that the registration staff could simply copy/paste the registrants’ email addresses into a template email and click Send.
This was a far better solution, but I was still not pleased. After exploring more advanced options, we finally had our breakthrough. We were able to set up daily automated checks for registrants without a conference schedule, and automatically email them instructions to build their conference schedule online themselves.
This is just one example of what is possible when we embrace the challenges that arise as a result of technological limitations. While solving this one problem, we discovered that we not only have the ability to generate custom participant lists from our registration system’s database, but that we can also automatically email the participants on those lists. This same setup can now be leveraged to send automated emails to registrants for any reason, even if that functionality is not currently available within our registration system.
It was truly amazing to witness what was accomplished during this process, all because we refused to let a system limitation impact our ability to provide highest level of customer service possible.
We all face challenges every day. However, the problems are not nearly as important as our responses to those problems. When I was a child, my grandmother would remind me of this regularly with the well-known saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This same basic principle can be applied to our handling of technological limitations.
We must have the proper mindset to view every challenge as an opportunity to showcase our creativity and problem-solving skills. Once we train our mind to perceive challenges this way, we will surprise even ourselves with all that can be accomplished.
Author Perspective: Administrator