A bluff report may fool auditors that the company is running smoothly but try telling a hospitalised boss why safety procedures have been ignored...

Year 1998 - Episode 37


Something feels wrong. I know it immediately. It's a seventh sense among seasoned support professionals.

The PFY confirms it when he gets back from morning tea - at the pub - and looks around as if to check everything is as it should be.

It's like a funny-coloured smell.

The boss must be up to something. We could be over-sensitive, but I think he's a bit upset about me telling the helpdesk staff the grey powder on their furniture might be asbestos dust. That was two days ago, but the mass walkout and hypochondria is yet to end, despite proof that the dust concerned was in fact talcum powder dyed grey.

Some form of retaliation is expected and the waiting game ends fairly shortly when we see the boss waddling in our direction.

"I think it's about time you did some documentation," he blurts, after exhausting his list of social niceties ("How are you?", "How are things going?" and "Isn't that memory the stuff that's missing from my desktop machine?").

"Documentation?"

"Yes, a site guide, configuration standards, network and systems topologies, installed software, site customisations," he burbles, reeling off the sentence he's obviously spent half the morning committing to memory at great personal risk to the other contents of his brain (where he lives, what his name is, when it's appropriate to unzip his fly etc.).

"But we've got all that already - in the fireproof filing cabinet over there," I respond, pointing at a dull grey monster in the corner that I've only ever opened once.

"Well, let's have a look at it."

"Well, I'd like to, but apparently my assistant locked the key in it the last time he was updating the information!" I cry, using the PFY as a scapegoat for this particular excuse (as previously arranged, of course).

"Then get a locksmith in!" the boss yells, not one to be put off by small details.

Three hours and one fire alarm later the 'documentation' is a mass of ashen remains in the now open cabinet. The fact that they were a mass of ashen remains when I put them in is beside the point.

"I can't think why the PFY would have put that large jar of tapehead cleaner right next to where the locksmith would have to gas-axe the lock open. What an oversight!" I wail, stifling a snigger as the boss gingerly applies some burn cream to his hands.

"It's irrelevant now. I want some documentation to show the auditors."

"The auditors?" I protest. "What do glorified beancounters want documentation for?"

"Not monetary auditors, company auditors. Since the company sold itself to that US combine we have to have our every move audited to ensure the place is a smooth-running machine."

"My money's on a '73 Ford Escort running on three cylinders with water in the fuel tank, but I take your point."

"So I'll expect reprints of your documentation first thing tomorrow," the boss says, leaving.

"Auditors?" the PFY asks. "I haven't heard anything about them."

"First thing you'd better do is OCR scan some random manual pages - the older the better - into a word processor to add a bit of bulk to our documentation. I'll dump the network topology mapper output into another document in 24 point, which should use up about 100 pages by itself. Then push the DNS through a perl filter to add some fancy field information to it. Then I'll work on some table of contents pages, etc.," I reply.

"But won't they know it's crap?" the PFY asks.

"Nah, there'll be so much of it they'll look at the table of contents, check the first few pages, then randomly open the documents at certain pages. Which reminds me. Anything that's reasonably legit should be printed on heavier paper than the rest of the document so that anyone flipping through will stop there.

"You sound like you've done this before."

"One of the tricks of the contracting trade. There's always a run on 100gsm paper at company report time."

Three hours later, we have a document that would fool the average beginner. However, bearing in mind that the auditors have probably seen a few of these in their time, I'm going to have to insert some believable stuff into the procedures area.

An hour later, I've whipped out ten good pages of bumpf on "Hot Swap," "Disaster recovery," "Host configuration and naming," "Router configuration standards", etc.

I also chuck in some roughly accurate palaver about cabling, trunking and patch panel locations, as well as a brief outline of emergency service and security configuration information. I slap it all together into an appropriately named folder, then subject it to the ageing process (meaning I jump up and down on it, kick it around until some of the pages fall out, then spill some food and ink on it) to make it look like it's heavily referred to.

The document gets submitted, and, judging by the lack of evidence to the contrary, the auditors must be happy.

And so it was that the next day the PFY and I were standing beside the network monitor when it started emitting the telltale signs of a router not talking to anything any more.

"That'll be the boss turning on router redundant takeover."

"How can you be sure?"

"The old ROMS don't support it - it causes a memory leak. Of course, I forgot to document that. Actually, come to think of it, I also forgot to document..."

A large crash from the floor above interrupts me.

"The emergency duct access retracting ladder isn't screwed into the roof yet."

Five minutes later the boss is on his way to hospital and the documentation is on its way to the incinerator.