As far as the BOFH's concerned, the season of goodwill doesn't run to the systems men. Quite the opposite in fact...

Year 1997 - Episode 40


It's Christmas time and brown-nosing is at record levels as tomorrow the Xmas bonuses are announced and everyone is seizing the opportunity of enhancing their standing in the head of IT's eyes. Of course they're completely forgetting last year's bonuses, where electronic calculations of customer satisfaction to bonus size produced only two, extremely large, bonus cheques. I must admit that they came as a bit of a surprise to the PFY and me, but as we all know, computers never lie.

Worse still, the head is himself brown-nosing for a Christmas party bonus from one of the mail room women by offering her a technical position in the department. Far more technical that the one he'll be offering her if he manages to drag her to the photocopier room mid-party.

As I'm stalking past the helpdesk to avoid the throng outside the head's office, a phone rings. So, full of Xmas cheer, I answer it.

"Hi, it's Bryce from marketing. Someone's worked out the administrator password for the company Web site and has been modifying our Web pages. I'd like to secure it so that it's safe from hackers during the break."

"Really?" I ask, remembering how easy it was to replace the inline product graphics with ones guaranteed to excite the customers' enthusiasm. "Well you should change the password then."

"What to? Should I make it just a string of characters and punctuation marks?"

"No, don't be silly, make it something no-one will need to write down. The company name for example. I'm sure that'll be secure."

"Really? Because one of the systems bods is saying that we should make it as complex as possible."

"They would do," I remark, remembering all too well the system purchasing nightmare of recent weeks. "They love it when you have to ring up because you've forgotten it."

"Yes, they do don't they," he blurts, remembering the shame all too well.

I swing by and check how the PFY is coming along with the 'customer satisfaction survey' results. A bit of data massage never hurt anyone.

All that remains is for me to cover up a particularly nasty bit of fiddling that the Boss might catch wind of. I arm myself with the IT operational balance spreadsheet, corner him, then regale him with bizarre terms like accounts payable, inwards and outwards goods, trial balances and the like until his eyes glaze over, then point him to the creative bookeeping in question.

"And that's where I converted our holdings into standard European monetary units, as we'll be required to do in 1999. I thought it best to trial the software as soon as possible to see if there were any bugs - so that we could get them fixed well in advance of the changeover."

"Yes of course," the boss responds. "Good idea, and what's this?"

"That's where I converted it back from EMUs to pounds as it all went well and we're not actually trading in EMUs yet."

"But the start and end figures are different by about ten thousand quid."

"Yes, well, with the exchange rate, commission, stamp duty, poll tax and Inland Revenue all taking their cut."

"Oh dear," the boss cries. "Hopefully you won't be running too many of these tests in the future then."

"Well I can't be too sure. I know that there's one more due just before I take my Easter break next year, but apart from that it's anybody's guess - who knows how many tests the auditors might require us to do."

"Hmmm, well, in the interests of the company perhaps we should put a hold on auditing our accounts until the changeover - you can't see any problem with that can you?"

"None springs to mind immediately." I respond.

"Good. But what's this?" he asks, looking at the only figure on the spreadhseet in red.

"That?" I ask, "Oh, that's the money in the systems budget that no-one seems to have accounted for. It seems to have been allocated out in two lump sums which just happen to coincide with the holidays of the two systems guys."

"Oh," says the boss, having cached my excuse for monetary discrepancies and brought it back into memory.

"Funny how it seems to have disappeared just prior to their holidays," I say, clearing his mental cache.

"You mean they've been stealing?" the boss asks as the sun of knowledge comes up over his mental horizon.

"I afraid that's what the facts lead me to believe," I sigh, sadly.

"Shall I call the police?"

"With what evidence?" I ask. "This is just a precis of the accounts. To prosecute someone you'd need a complete audit, with auditors' fees, possible EMU translations, poll tax, compound exhange rates and commission, concession allowance."

"Concession allowance?"

"Auditing overtime concession," I ad-lib "For working over the Christmas break. You're probably looking at about 15K, and there's no guarantee they'll be prosecuted."

"So I'll fire them," he cries.

"And without prosecution, be liable for an unfair dismissal action."

"Well something's got to be done."

"True," I comment, "and before the next birthday, which is second week in January if I'm not mistaken."

"What can I do?"

"Well, you could just pay them an end-of-contract bonus and not renew as of 1st January," I suggest.

"Excellent. But ..."

"But?" I ask.

"Who'll look after the systems?"

"Well, there's not that much to it. I mean hell, we could probably handle it if we took on another trainee. We'd probably be up to speed by mid-January."

"Really?"

"Of course you'd be looking at a new contracting rate."

"Oh..."

"Which would be much less than you stand to lose on the 10th of January given the current situation."

"All right then," The boss cries, and waddles off to make it so.

I let the PFY in on the latest developments at the booze-up while the systems guys help themselves to a punch - the new security blokes are like that when you refuse to leave the building. Ex-army chaps apparently.

"More bloody work?" he blurts.

"With pay rise attached."

"So?"

"And you get a new trainee."

"So bloody what."

"Of your choice."

"And?"

"And isn't it time you started 'interviewing' applicants from the DP pool? Once the head of department finishes his 'photocopying' of course."

"Eh?" The PFY cries, getting a little dose of enlightenment UV himself.

"Ah well, just call me a sentimental old Santa type..."