It's a busy afternoon, and the installation of a software upgrade isn't going well for Grafton Associates. Richard Carroll, CEO of the $4-million temporary-help agency, calls in his computer specialist, who reinstalls the software while the staff watches. A few minutes later the program is working fine. It's a normal scene in corporate America -- except that Grafton Associates is in Kansas City, and its computer specialist is in New York City.

Carroll arrived at the outsourcing solution -- he pays $75 an hour for a few hours' help each month -- because he didn't need a full-time management-information-systems manager. But the arrangement didn't start efficiently. Before, the CEO would call the consultant or send electronic mail describing the problems. "He had to imagine what was going on," says Carroll.

So six months ago Carroll invested in a dedicated modem line and external modems for his two office locations. Now the consultant dials Grafton Associates' modem and logs into its Apple network, and a staffer reenacts the problem. If the problem isn't urgent, the consultant modems in after hours to correct it. When the staff arrives in the morning, the problem has been solved. Says Carroll, "We're free to do our core business, which is finding temporary employees, not fixing glitches."

Whether you completely outsource computer support, do it yourself, or hire in-house expertise, Networking Illustrated is a useful primer. Large illustrations and clear terminology demystify complex networks. The "facts" boxes sprinkled throughout offer usage and setup guidelines. The book is $24.99 from Que Books (800-428-5331).

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