Announcing System Outages: There’s Got to Be a Better Way?

by | Mar 9, 2010 | Writing Matters Blog | 1 comment

On behalf of my colleague and friend Marie DiRuzza (Assistant Director of Desktop Services at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and V.P. of Programs for HDI New England) I am reaching out to all of you to ask for your input: what’s the best way to write a system outage announcement?

Marie’s group at WPI is responsible for letting everyone on campus know when a system or network will be unavailable.

They use a format for these outage announcements that’s dictated by, in Marie’s words, “an ancient (and free) posting system,” which you can take a look at, above.  She’s less than happy with the outage announcement format and is looking for other options. If you’ve developed a method for writing system outage announcements or if you receive helpful, easy-to-read announcements from the service desk at your company, please let me know or post a comment. Of course, if you want to share a terrible system outage announcement, you can do that too.

I don’t know how to tell Marie this, but I think her outage announcements are, in fact, quite good. They give the bare facts of the outage, the reasons behind the outage, and the details of the outage. The two-column format works because the left column presents headings for those who like to scan:

  • When?    
  • How long?    
  • Why?    
  • Groups Affected    
  • Impact    
  • Questions    
  • Details

And the right column presents explanations for those who want to read. When appropriate, the announcements include a Frequently Asked Questions section, so those super-interested readers will get all the detail they need. Take a look at a recent announcement: “myWPI Planned Downtime – System Upgrade (3/12/10)” or, if you feel the need, scroll through eight years of archived announcements (!).

— Leslie O’Flahavan

Tags: Customer service, Help desk

1 Comment

  1. If I may:
    The final notice format is good, in that it presents the details quite succinctly. The one piece I thought perhaps muddied the waters was the extra info for FAQs, which really seemed somewhat unrelated.
    I understand what Marie perhaps means by the overall presentation though. For example, through COIGN (our web-based helpdesk software), we enable pro-active alerts to be published right there on the sign-in portal; plus, we also enable messages to be broadcast through the portal by email to dynamic groups of registered users. We’re also adding things such as RSS feeds for similar areas. We take the approach that the more you can get information into the hands of users, the quicker problems are resolved and the happier the users are.
    Richard Stevenson
    CobbleSoft International
    Office: 615-346-9241

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