Friday, 29 May 2009

Le VPN - Il marche maintenant!

The company I work for has sites in several European countries. A few of these are wholly owned, but many are business partner type set-ups. One of the latter was in France; but last year, we bought out the partner and the business is now wholly owned by us, and the business is run as a separate concern.

The long term plans are to get them to use the same systems as the rest of the group; but this is taking a bit longer as we are in the process of implementing a new ERP system and it has to work for us first before we put them onto the same system. However, we have set-up a VPN connection, got them to transfer to using our mail server, linked in their DNS and the AD and started them Video conferencing, so they are now looking more to us for support.

Working with the staff there is OK; all but a couple of older ladies speak some English and even they manage to understand me most of the time. One young lady in particular is native French but speaks fluent English and German; she can even switch language mid sentence. It makes me feel very inadequate (but then I remind myself that I speak binary and hexadecimal!) Like most people of my age, I did learn French at school; but that was over trente years ago. Even then, it was definitely the "la plume de ma tante" style of speaking. I'm sure that I could have played the part of Officer Crabtree in 'Allo, 'Allo with great effect!

We wanted to use our equipment over there so that we could manage it, but the former partner company, whose systems the site still have to use for the time being, insist that they want to control the connection. We occasionally get problems with the VPN - their router plays up and the connection doesn't get re-set properly, so I have manually do it from our end. A bit frustrating as we seldom get issues like that within the sites in the UK.

This week there was one such incident. However, this time it was worse than normal, as all attempts to get the VPN running again failed. The funniest part was whan they asked me to speak to the ISP helpdesk in France; they gave me a telephone number over there which I called. After about 2 minutes, I got through to a very nice young lady - in India! Fortunately, her English was better than my French!

After several exchanges of emails and various tests, we did actually get it running again. Although this is a slower way of dealing with people, it works well in multi language situations as each side gets the chance to think more carefully about a response - there isn't the pressure of a live conversation. Having said that, most of the people that I have to deal with do manage to make themselves understood. I do try to speak their language - but usually, they smile slightly then politely suggest that we should stick to English. Clearly, my French hasn't improved since Mme Vincente tried to teach me to correctly conjugate my verbs back in the late 60's. Ah, zut alors!

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