back to article Who does the helpdesk really help?

Who does the helpdesk help - IT or the business? Many people (users) think the helpdesk is ‘what IT is for” where as in fact it may be the very thing stopping IT from being a more valuable partner to the business. Is this status quo simply the way things are destined to stay or is there more we can do with this frontline service …


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  1. Scary

    "Hello IT

    have you tried turning it off and on again?"

  2. Anonymous Coward

    The user is sometimes right...

    I've worked in several large organisations with out-sources, sometimes off-shore heklpdesk support and I'm constantly faced with the frustration of having to use a system / process but being faced with helpdesk opperatives at the other end who are ignorant, clueless and annoying in the extreme...

    A recent example; I found that a terminal emulator app I used to connect to Unix servers stopped working; the app would freeze up at the initial flash screen and go no further.

    Not having local admin rights on my system and being reliant on the companies' application delivery software to deliver / install the app in question there was little I could do myself so followed the process and submitted a ticket clerely explaining the issue.

    I'd expected I might get a call from helpdesk and probably a remote session to fix the app in question but no, my ticket was passed to the team responsible for the unix servers I was connecting to and what followed was a stream of replies stating that there was nothing wrong with my login credentials and 'could I connect to the ***** server now?' Even though I repeatedly explained that the problem was with a local application

    Eventually, after remoiving / re-installing the app several times and 'working around' some of the restrictions in place I managed to get the console up and runnign again, no thanks to the 'helpdesk', who in this case put the moron into oxymoron...

    I'd like to see more examples from frustrated users of the frustrations often faced when having to call the 'help' desk...

  3. Anonymous Coward

    futility of helpdesks

    There's only one thing more futile than calling a helpdesk, that's working in one. Having to teach how to right-click to someone over the phone, bares comparison to water-boarding or the Chinese water torture. Lenovos one-button restore would eliminate ninety nine percent of calls. I don't know why other PC makers don't implement it.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Helpdesk staff have a better perspective

    I agree that the helpdesk should be a 2-way means of communication. I once worked at a place where by the testing of new customer facing software was done by the engineers, who at other times would be looking at hardware issues, etc. I could never understand why the helpdesk staff did not do this testing.

    They are the ones that receive the grumblings from the customer, 'why does(n't) it do this/that?' etc. They would be coming at the application from more of a customer's viewpoint.

    Sure, use the engineers to test the hard stuff like breakability but usability could often get missed out and it's only when the reports come back in from the helpdesk that such and such doesn't work now, that the engineers would get asked, "did you test that?"

    Yes, they did test it but didn't realise that customers would want it to work a different way, etc. This is where the helpdesk staff could provide valuable input. That's just one example. I'm sure I come across others during my time there and at other companies too.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    'Helpdesk', putting the 'moron' into 'oxymoron'...

    Original ticket:-

    "I have ****** terinal emulator installed and configured on my laptop to connect to the ****** unix server, however, I now find that when I start up ***** it freezes at the welcome flash screen. The process is running in the background but the console UI never appears.

    I recently had to use a different laptop and re-downloaded *******, this was when the problem started, however, I have now switched back to my original laptop on which ******* was already installed and configured but the problem is the same. I have tried removing / re-installing ******* via ********** but the problem remains. Many thanks"


    Email Sent: Hi Platform team, Can you check out ****** in case this is a problem at the server side? cheers, Phil.

    Transferred to *******

    Email Sent: Hi, I am able to login into the server using ******* successfully. May I know which user you are using? Thanks.

    Updated by ******* (me): Please refer to my request submission - the application does not get that far!

    Email Sent: Have you tried any other server? ****** server is up only. We dont know what is the problem on your ******* terminal. Are you able to connect to ****** through *****? Thanks.

    Email Sent: Are you facing the problem still? Do you need any assistance on this issue?

    Updated by ******* (me) : I did not experience or report any problems connecting to the Unix server, as my request made quite clear; the problem appeared to be with my terminal application which was freezing at the initial flash screen (before presenting the opportunity to connect to a server) on two installations on two seperate laptops. Frankly I cannot see the relevance or suitability of any of your responses to this issue. After removing and re-installing the application several times and much tweeking of the local configuration I now have ******* working again.

  6. MrPatrick

    In theory...

    ...the helpdesk is already the interface between the business and the internals of the IT dept. Well trained and knowledgable staff on the front lines will fix problems and identify future needs based on their interactions with the users.

    In reality you have poorly trained helpdesk stff who simply do the minimum they have to, ramping up numbers to get their bonus, and if you do get someone who is up to speed who tries to feedback int othe internals of the IT dept they'll be institutionally ignored.

    This is my experience anyway.

    Currently I work in a place thats small enough to be able to react to nascent trends in customer requirements so this isn't a problem but I've worked in a big helpdesk environment where it was all metrics and stats and nothing to do with the actual solving of issues.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    If the ticket you raised was as littered with typos as your comment above then I'm not surprised the helpdesk couldn't be bothered helping you. The people that work in these functions have very highly developed dummy detectors and they probably decided you were best avoided sounding far too much like hard work.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    The relationship between IT and business

    If only more companies realised that IT is much more than "The helpdesk".

    I worked in a (huge multi-national) company when they shed 25% of an already small and overworked IT support and development unit. Developers were shifted to support roles, project managers made redundant in the middle of multi-million pound projects, testing all but abandoned with a test manager moving to infrastructure and another project manager moving to testing for the first time (and asking me on the first day what she was actually supposed to be doing...). All to save money because they didn't make enough profit (there was not even a loss!).

    All this without the realisation from the board that without IT and the systems it developed, there would be no business whatsoever - instead we were simply a costly overhead.

  9. Mike Dyne

    IT, Mike speaking...

    I started my role in IT support 2 years ago in a company which had no such previous position. I was allowed to expand my roll as much as I liked, which has been fantastic.

    I often talk to people about what's going on, where things are changing and what they think could be done to make our services better. Some of these things come to fruition, others don't, but it has helped a lot of frustration get washed away.

    I'm also the face of IT. I've improved the perception of the IT dept (wasn't hard - it's not easy for two guys to implement new systems, maintain current systems and support the end users), which has really helped me stay employed during the recession.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Talent killer.....

    Helpdesk will always suffer as long as the obsession with quantity over quality continues.

    Having worked on several helpdesks as well as 2nd and 3rd line teams, I can honestly say that most helpdesks are poison for anyone with genuine ability. Most service mangers are interested in little more than a high turnaround on calls. As a result helpdesk employees who fobb users off and stick to the ‘process’ like glue are praised whilst those who actually think outside the box and actually take their time with the user making sure that tickets were through and accurate are chastised for not turning enough calls around. I’ve seen plenty of talented helpdesk employees move on quickly because they simply didn’t want to hang around waiting for the tiny possibility of an opening on a 2nd line team.

    Helpdesk work is a soul destroying dead end for anyone who knows what they are talking about and actually gives a damn. It’s the only job where going the extra mile with a user will get you a bollocking.

  11. skuba*steve

    Insert Title Here

    @ AC I feel your pain. I "Manage" the internal IT delivery for a SME (more on the medium sized), and there's myself and my junior engineer running 300+desktop/laptops, 30+ servers running a resilient EX2007 infrastructure, Dynamics CRM, Great Plains, Hyper V etc, VOIP office phones, mobile devices, datacentre Aircon etc and we are pretty much viewed as a "nice to have". We are customer facing, 1st 2nd and 3rd line support, dealing with procurements, IT budgets, project management etc.

    I'm there at 4am when the file server falls over, I'm there when Jenny can;t log in, when the boardroom projector stops working, when the MD decides he wants us to start using sharepoint..instant experst in every bit of hardware or software going.

    We're more than just a the risk of being melodramatic the two of us ARE the start and stop of IT support for the company, but we are still seen as "the IT guys" who move printers around and sort out that niggling problem you got when you upgraded to IE8 when we have already told you it breaks the intranet.

    Underpaid, overworked and underappreciated, and I wish to hell they'd change the departments name from IT support!

  12. Aaron Em

    "They couldn't be bothered" is an excuse?

    Where I come from, if you can't be bothered to do your job, you generally don't get to stay in it; speaking as somebody who's both worked on a helpdesk and occasionally needed to call one, I tend to prefer it that way.

  13. Pete 2

    The theory and the practice

    In theory the helpdesk serves the business. it provides support to the revenue earning (primarily) and back office (secondarily) functions within a company to fix their operational problems, thereby mitigating risk, increasing efficiency and reducing costs. As part of this, organisations use IT as an enabllng technology to their business processes - allowing them to increase the speed, quality and consistency of their services.

    In practice the helpdesk and IT in general is viewed universally as a necessary evil.They are both cost-centres, who's overheads should be minimised, while balancing expenditure with customer satisfaction and the operational needs of the organisation. There are very few companies who would not get rid of their IT in it's entirety, if only they could.

    These opposing views come about as IT has never been able to come up with any tangible benefits for the money it costs. There is no way of measuring the business benefits it creates. None of it's outputs are measurable, yet it's inputs (money, people, floorspace, consumables) most definitely are. Since nothing it does can be measured, it follows that reducing it's output will therefore have no measurable effect on the organisation, hence it's a prime target for cost cutting.

    What's worse is that the cost of the helpdesk can easily be divided by the amount of "work" it does (i.e. number of calls taken, problems fixed) and a cost per incident calculated. The problem is, that this CpI is often very high and seen as an immediate target for reduction, or, worse: cross charging. "Don't call the helpdesk, we get charged £45 every time we call them, we'll fix it ourselves. or install our own printers, or software, or whatever". So with this view, the helpdesk becomes the problem to be avoided..

    So. the business hates it because it costs a lot of money. The users hate it because they get penalised for using it. the helpdesk staff hate it as they spend all day answering dumbass question from dumbass users. Yet no-one feels they can get rid of it. Who does it help? Usually, just itself.

  14. davenewman

    What should we be measuring instead

    Given that the metrics used spoil things by measuring quantity and speed, and not quality, how can we measure the quality of a help desk service to users?

    Tell me what should be measured, I will write an article for a management journal, then eventually the pointy-haired bosses will change the way they measure things (and maybe how they reward people, although that may be stretching things).

  15. Chika

    My turn!

    Underpaid, yes. Unappreciated, certainly. But then the front line of most industries tend to fall into that trap because people are people. Get one person who can't do the job right and it tarnishes the whole desk. Get one person who complains a lot because they can't get their own way or because they can't put their problem across properly and the same thing happens.

    I've been on both sides of the argument and I've seen the problem at first hand. The helpdesk faces the outside world where there are invariably people who are unfit to have a computer but who will argue the toss at the drop of a hat and will complain loudly when they lose the argument. At the same time, however, there are those helpdesk folk who are little different to that and, given that many companies treat the helpdesk much as one might treat the family cat's litter box, it means that this is likely to continue.

    This is complicated by the fact that many places that operate the entity known as a helpdesk, or "Service Desk" as ITIL says I should call it, have no real notion of exactly what it does and spend little time or effort finding out. A typical gripe, for example, appears further up this page in which the staff are referred to as "poorly trained" but how many companies out there are committed to giving their helpdesk staff the training they actually need? And, for those helpdesk folk out there that might be reading this, how many times have you ever been asked a support question about something implemented without your knowledge? I know it isn't supposed to happen in a well run IT department, but... really...

    Even ITIL itself is non-committal about the whole situation, calling itself a "framework" and allowing for adaptation when, in fact, this is a licence for ignorant managers to simply run roughshod over the entire principle when occasion fits. Believe me, they do! "I don't care if the policy/procedure says that, do it now!"

    Add this to the usual "my job is more important than anyone else's", "I'm a VIP so deal with it or you're history", "you can do it this once for me, pal", "honestly, it isn't my fault; I didn't do nuffing guvna" and you begin to wonder why anyone in their right mind would ever become a Helpdesk operative!

  16. RTNavy

    IT Crowd

    Check out Netflix and the British Comedy the "IT Crowd" available for live streaming (in the US anyway)

    (referenced in the first posted comments to this thread)

    Every tech will recognize everything in it!!

    Turn it Off and ON

    Do you know where the power button is?

    Do you know what a button is?

    Is it plugged in?

    Leave the Firewall alone!

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Single point of contact or single point of failure?

    The biggest benefits of a help desk are that the users only need to call one number to get their issues looked at and a way of tracking the IT department's performance in resolving it.

    Sadly, my previous employer managed to circumvent these benefits by having different help desks for incidents and requests, but even worse, every call to the help desk would be logged on the system, even if it was to chase up an existing ticket. Effectively, phoning the help desk to complain about poor service would IMPROVE their stats as your complaint call would be logged, then immediately closed as a first line fix!

  18. The Metal Cod


    Bloody well right!!!

    I've cleared up so much s#@* resulting from halfwitted managers and directors with their single buttocked initiatives, schemes and half baked ideas which have been decided on with no input from ICT whatsoever. Not forgetting the slightly smaller load of s#@* resulting from senior "management" who did bother to ask ICT and then said "F@#* it, I'll do it anyway and ICT can clear it up if it fails" when we told them (politely but firmly) that the idea wouldn't work.

    I'm the IT guy who helped people in the office when I was on bloody holiday. I was at the airport FFS! And what thanks did I get? Not a bloody thing!

    Don't get me started on the users who repeatedly pay no attention in the training sessions and regularly submit tickets for the same issue they wouldn't have if they bothered to make an effort in their training session.

    It isn't anything to do with computer literacy. I've helped people who barely get past switching PCs on who have far more nouse and the positive listening and understanding attitude needed to get results than the "computer literate" people who demonstrate their lack of positive listening and understanding attitude in spades by plaguing the helpdesk time and again. Give me the former over the latter every time.

    Some will argue that ICT needs to better argue its case. If businesses and management took ICT seriously and took on board the information we give them then perhaps the "Oh bollocks, we've been ignored *again*" and "Which eunuch thought this one up and didn't bother to check with us?" syndromes might disappear. Of course, there's more chance of the second coming of the great prophet Zarquon than that happening.

    I don't miss the IT Support job. Never thought I'd say that, but looking back I really don't miss the bad attitudes, ignorance, rudeness, repeatedly scything into my personal time et cetera. And that was just the "management".

  19. Combat Wombat

    @talent Killer

    *sniff* I love you man !

    That sums up my entire career in helldesk...

    I am not doing freelance support for animation people... and I *f'ing* love it.

    Direct contact, my own boss, and the ability to fix issues at their source, and no TRUCKING helldesk protocols, and volume based rewards,

  20. Atrox666

    The IT desk is for closing tickets

    They don't even call it a help desk at my work. (Don't want to raise any false hopes) They are a service desk. They log calls in bad English and close tickets. Usually the problem isn't solved. It is far more efficient to blame someone else or just close the ticket if you've called the person 3 times and got no answer. Sometimes they just close the ticket for no apparent reason. When they're not horribly fucking up their jobs they are whining about how no one in the business respects them..gee..wonder why.

  21. 4HiMarks
    IT Angle

    printers and PCs

    A few years ago, I bought a new Compaq computer. This was several years AFTER they got bought by HP, to the extent that merely redirected you to I had a problem where the PC kept hanging every time it booted, which was a probelm when you are trying to install all your applications and WIndows patches on a new machine. Call helpdesk in India:

    step one: Re-install factory image - no, I just spent hours installing all my apps.

    step two: unplug all peripherals and reboot - OK, it works now. Do you think it might be one of them causing the problem? I don't know. it boots now. end of call.

    It happens again, So i try it with differnt peripherals plugged in until I isolate the problem: my HP All-in-one printer. When the printer is attached, boot hangs, when it isn't, no problem. Both devices are made by HP, after the merger, so they should play together, right?

    Call India, explain problem. Oh, that sounds like aprinter porblem, yuou need to contact your printer manufacturer. YOU are my printer manufacturer, your company was bought out by HP several years ago. Sorry, I am not able to be helping you. Please be contacting the company that makes your printer. I am. It is you! (round and round we go.)

    Finally, I find the answer on their own Knowledge Base: in those early days of multi-card readers, the PC thinks the card reader in the printer is a boot device that overrides the HDD. It's been waiting for me to insert a bootable flash memory card in my printer! I don't remember the exact solution, anymore. I either had to install new printer drivers, new firmware, or flash the BIOS, but that solved the problem.

    That was nothing compared to the time when it stopped recognizing blank disks in the DVD/CD burner. They kept telling me to download and install a firmware update for the drive. How is that done? You have to burn the files to a blank CD. You can't even do it on a different machine because the part of the update process involves checking to see if you have the right kind of drive before it will even burn the disk. I wound up replacing the drive (I think the write laser had gone bad).

  22. Trevor Pott o_O Gold badge

    Already there...and moving beyond

    Our helpdesk does serve as a method of two way communication. It serves to recieve complaints, suggestions and general feedback from our users, but also to provide a friendly face to them as well. When it's time for a policy change, new application, upgrade, or any other form of disruption to user life, it's the helpdesk's job to call the users, one by one, and hold their hands through the process.

    This interaction with the users is greatly appreciated, and makes all the difference in teh world. We even periodically have "survey runs" where the help desk staff talk to each of the users in the company and get their take on how things are running, and where we could be doing better.

    It's impossible to make everyone happy, but the process of engaging with the users and actually asking their opinions makes a world of difference. Even if you can't implement their suggestions, the fact that you bothered to solicit them is worth many times the time spent on the exercise.

    The help desk staffs are also brought in to consult with the senior IT staff to assess business needs of our users. With the help desk staff being closest to the users, they have a good idea of where improvements should be made, and what those improvements should be. (It is then up to senior IT staff to figure out HOW to do it, and of course on a shoestring budget...)

    If you don’t force your help desk staff to read from a script, and measure their job in crazy metrics like call times, you end up with help desk staff that actually take the time to help the end users. If you also task them with a bit of user/IT P.R. you can build a positive relationship that avoids most of the user/IT angst and bitterness. It’s also a good thing for your career to be able to periodically go to senior management and say “hey, we have done an assessment of X, Y, and Z and feel that A, B, and C will increase productivity and user satisfaction while integrating nicely with our existing systems.

    Or to put this all more simply: help desks should never be thought of merely as reactive cost centers, but also as an opportunity to use (hopefully) well-trained IT personnel close to the “factory floor” of all aspects of the business to proactively seek out opportunities to increase efficiency and user satisfaction. Think of it as preventative maintenance for people.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    At last...somewhere where I can complain about Telstra Australia

    I've been reporting a problem to Telstra's help desk for the past three days.

    One of their web applications isn't working ( in case a Telstra nob reads this, follow this URL: and you'll see the problem) . When I report it some monkey gives me the standard reply, "...sorry for the inconvenience...try ringing the mobile service helpdesk...".

    I've even attached a screen dump of the error message and sent them the offending URL. All to no avail. Why is it that they can't divert from their script....

    Anyway I feel better for that. So the moral of the story is avoid Telstra.

    And the helpdesk doesn't help the customer. I guess if you provide enough road blocks then customers don't bother following up so you can close the ticket and get a good closure rate and more peanuts, or whatever.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    $Megacorp madness

    I work for $Megacorp and the IT service is next to useless. The drive to standardisation has gone so far that even the engineering applications written by $Megacorp to communicate with $Megacorp's products are 'not supported', and routinely blamed for problems with the laptop and deleted.

    I have recently filled in a form for permission to have the screensaver removed so I can continue to monitor processes. It has been returned because the manager who authorised it is not authorised to authorise the removal of screensavers.

    The help desk is wholly unable to answer a simple question. "Did the last on-line update push disable firewire? ' If they had said 'yes' I would have ordered a new backup disk, if 'no' I would have reported a mother board fault on the laptop. Instead of just answering the question, I had 18 people dial into my machine and try to re-install the backup software that I did not use. Not one of those people listened to what I had to say. I just carefully logged it all and sent it to my boss, who said "Welcome to $Megacorp"

    In my previous employer, $WierdCo, all the IT on remote sites was managed remotely. I could not even telnet to the satellite link base station, they could only do it from Aberdeen. So when the link was lost, instead of just steering the dish back I had to drive to the nearest town (with my two armed guards), telephone ABZ, and drive back. Two days later I would drive back again and ring up to see when someone would be arriving. Usually within another day. Then a grumpy scotsman would fall off a plane and we would drive him back to camp, where he would plug in his ultra-privileged laptop, put the dish back in line with the sputnik, go to bed, and be driven back for the next flight. Any suggestion that I was perfectly able to run telnet if they would give me a password or two, and do it myself was regarded as "insecure". I was able to authorise or refuse work worth millions, arrange contracts with local craftsmen, and make inspection arrangements with local governments. I was entrusted with massive cash budgets and the closure of contracts. But I was not trustworthy enough to type 'az=31.2, el=29'.

    It seems to me that the whole of IT, not just helpdesk staff, have forgotten who is the tail and who the dog.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All depts should have them

    or none at all.

    It is actually quite demeaning to only have an IT help desk. No help desk should be operations, which then feeds to the help desks of each department. Legal Help Desk, Sales Help Desk, and my of course Marketing Help Desk those guys live on another planet, all their jingo and jargon, failure to communicate going over everyone's heads.

    And it is not up to IT to measure their profitability, it is up to the other departments to decide how much they are willing to spend on IT. Cost / profit centre departments, same with legal et al, give them all some seed money and they have to return, quite simple really, that then makes sales the hated department or the department in all the other departments, he he he.

  26. Pete 2

    @AC - Megacorp madness

    > whole of IT, not just helpdesk staff, have forgotten who is the tail and who the dog.

    so doesthat mean they have split the difference and become the bit in between? (you can take that as complimentary - the dog's b********* or derogatory - it's *****hole, as you wish)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Helpdesk can work but a paradigm shift is needed.

    Wow I see some experienced users here is good to see it. My experience comes both from in front and behind the helpdesk. Helpdesk is something often reviled by both business users who hate not getting a solution,being asked the stupid scripted questions and the last lines of helpdesk (the "real" IT) who hate them for being stupid from their point of view.

    Indeed all managers from helpdesk offices just want to have everything quickly solved. But what to do if the helpdesk person doesn't remember that he/she solved already a similar problem? That is frustrating to a last line, who already told the helpdesk person how to solve it last time. In my experience, it's good when the last line of the helpdesk is rotated for a couple of days per month to the first line. This way the "ignorant" first line learn directly from them and they usually solve the issues much faster, making the callers happier.

    Another problem of the helpdesk and sometimes IT is that they don't feel they belong to the company, partly to the stupid behaviour of management who treats them like a service provider slave. When helpdesk and IT (people) feels that it's contributing to the success of the company and management appreciates it, it's a totally different story. This is what worked best in my experience.

  28. Matt W 1

    Management Papers

    Have been done to death on proving the value of IT. I've a few on my pen drive in case of emergency "Value for Money" presentations.

    The solution is to embed all IT into the business and to give the CTO a major voice on the board. All investment programs should be vetted by Business, Finance and IT. Measure and review the performance of IT in terms of costs saved, or revenue earned. etc etc.

    Wait.....I have a PPT all ready to, don't leave......<sobs>

  29. Michael 77

    It's the Management, again

    I work on 2nd line support & have also worked on 3rd.

    The problem with the helpdesk is lack of planned continuity.

    Bright joiners soon get promoted or leave.

    The remainder aren't bright and lack experience (yes, I mean that: they have no experience in other areas of IT than helpdesk work.)

    I think the solution is to recruit much older people on the basis that they'll be staying until retirement: no promotion, but that should not mean no pay increases.

    They'd have to have their expertise & people skills monitored & improved as a matter of course - continually.

    Can't be all that hard.

  30. Graham Marsden

    Dogbert had it right...

    Caller: "Hello, I..."

    Dogbert: "Shut up and reboot."

    Caller: "Hey, it work..."

    Dogbert "Shut up and hang up.

    "Hmm, My average call time is improving."

  31. Ian Sawyer 1

    Who does the helpdesk really help?

    No one. They are a a bunch of de-evolved nuggets who don't know their arse from their elbows

  32. sdi boss

    SDI Boss

    Boy there are some cynics out there! And some pretty sad characters too......but I bring hope. 21 years ago I started something calles the Helpdesk User Group (HUG of course! ) as I got no support, did a great job at my helpdesk, and needed to talk to others in the same boat. That mushroomed and all this time later I'm still in the industry at SDI encouraging service desk bods to do better, and get others to recognise what a great job they do. Sure we can help managers know what they need to know to run the business, customers what they need to do a better job with iT and those techies to be customer literate!

    Come and join us at so we can change the world!


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