Continued problems with HBS e-mail servers spark widespread, justifiable dismay

Once again, an I.T. snafu. The e-mail server outages over March 8 – 20 have left a bitter taste in students’ mouths, prompting such reactions as: “it’s embarrassing,” “inexcusable,” “an outrage,” and “aren’t we at least entitled to an apology?”

While we never smile or give thanks for the majority of time the systems are up, we are seemingly eager to kick I.T. while they are, for lack of a better word, down. Is this the type of reaction administration wants us, as ambassadors of the HBS brand name, to have in our future endeavors? Perhaps an examination of why we feel this way is in order.
As students at the premier business school in the world, we have high expectations for many things. From faculty expertise and curriculum rigor to freshly painted buildings and neatly manicured lawns, we are practically trained from arrival to expect the best (with the notable exception of Spangler pizza).

Part of this set of expectations comes from the great academic and historical tradition of HBS, while the remainder comes when we write out the tuition payment check. So does it come as any great surprise that when we are confronted with a string of I.T. problems throughout the school year, we become extraordinarily frustrated?

Adding to this frustration are at least two factors. First, it is admittedly a stressful time in general for all students, given the current job market conditions. Amplifying this is the fact that e-mail has become the de facto means of communication between students and potential employers – both because our e-mail addresses clearly identify us as HBS students and because r‚sum‚s just aren’t faxed or snail-mailed any more. Having to resort to external personal e-mail accounts negates most of this benefit.

Second, each and every HBS student now has concepts such as redundancy and contingency planning hammered into their brains by TOM class. While it would seem logical for these concepts to be extended throughout the operation and organization of HBS, they are in some cases not extended so far as our expectations would have them be.

Does MBA I.T. Support have a contingency and redundancy plan for each of their mission-critical applications? They most certainly do. However, they do not have the high levels of redundancy found in the large corporations that many of us came from and to which many of us will return. As end users in this environment, we thus have to expect an e-mail system that handles 40 million messages totaling 1.5 Terabytes of data per year to have a few outages. It is still reasonable to conclude MBA I.T. has crossed that line of reason this year.

Does this mean we have to be resigned to the fact that outages happen? Absolutely not. But unless we, as students, let the administration know that we have higher expectations and want them met, things aren’t going to change.

We, the editors of the Harbus, want the highest possible I.T. redundancy, and we’re certain we are not alone in this desire. We don’t want these e-mail problems to ever happen again – nobody does. We have high expectations of everything at HBS, including expectations of the I.T. infrastructure. We appeal to the administration and student body representatives to make every effort to see that our community expectations can be better managed if not met more reliably.

In the meantime, we would like to make some suggestions to improve life in the short-term. MBA I.T. support has been helpful in announcing problems on MyHBS. However, in the future, we would like to see a more detailed explanation of the problem, the solution, and the steps to be taken so that it does not happen again. We would also suggest that we all take a deep breath when I.T. problems do arise, calmly report them to MBA I.T. support and wait for problems to be fixed before trying to get back into the system. We understand that I.T. support will fix things as quickly as possible and announce that the problem is solved when they are ready for us to proceed. But there is still much to be done so that these moments of frustration can be avoided altogether.