Is your business OK with OTK?

Do you want to become a software development company specializing in customized Open Source toolsor do you buy a solution that someone else has to maintain?

By Janice Summers

I love DIY projects! I find them truly irresistible. I relish each and every facet of them. From concept to completion, there is nothing I don’t enjoy. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing something I created being brought to fruition. Perhaps it is the influence from my early years and being raised in a family of DIY practitioners.

Recently I undertook a new DIY project. I needed a fairly specific type of bench / book shelf combo unit with customized features. Rather than hire someone to do it or get a readymade out-of-the-box solution, I decided this would be a perfect opportunity for a new DIY project. So I set out with an idea and started drafting the specifics of the design, selected the materials I would create it out of, and dove in. Having been an engineer by trade and training years ago, I always look forward to getting my hands into a physical project.

Now, I am not a wood worker by any stretch of the imagination but I thought, “How hard can it be?!” I have a hammer, a hand saw, a good pencil, and an accurate tape measure. Besides, I figured it would be a whole lot cheaper if I just did it myself.  Or so I thought….

Eventually I did finish the project and I did finish it on time (just in time) but I did blow the budget. The end product, even though I do like it, is flawed and not “production ready” by any means. It’s fine for the limited application I need for it and, since I am the only user, it’s good enough.

The experience got me to thinking about the correlation between building customized furniture and building company specific solutions for content creation and delivery.

Just like me, there are the DIY people out there who relish the opportunity to dig in and create their own solution. After all, there are Open Source tools out there for anyone to take advantage of. Better yet, they really don’t cost anything to use. There open for all and you think, “Hey I can save our company a ton of money?” All you need is a little ingenuity and a well laid out plan to get things rolling. Right?

Well, not so fast. You will need a bit more than just a plan drafted out. You will need some really stellar programming skills for starters. Then you will need the time, lots of time. But don’t forget, business doesn’t stop and wait for you to catch up so you may need a consultant or two or three to help you along the way.

Eventually you will get there…well, at least most of the way. You will need to fine tune your creation along the way and add features and functions because all you really got out of the initial hours and hours and hours of work was the bare bones. Then you will also need to go back and fix those little tweaks you over-looked in the beginning because the point of the tool is to have it ready for production. Of course, once you release it into the wild for others to use, in come the stream of issues and function requests. So you’ll need to start building those fun little “features” and then rolling out the new revisions. Cross your fingers that it won’t break something else along the way because that means hours in chasing the elusive “bug”.

Oops, I forgot to mention that your OTK will need to play nicely with other tools. Well, you need to spend time integrating that too. While you’ve been busy chasing the finish line, time has passed and those other tools you need to integrate with have been juiced up and, well, now you need to upgrade. Crap! Now that you have upgraded, it’s back to development because your Open Tool needs to keep pace.

Fast forward a year down the road and suddenly you realize you are on a treadmill that never stops and you never get finished. Not really. The cost in consulting fees and man hours for your company is too embarrassing to look at. Then you realize, this is not the career you signed up for so you dust off your resume and bail ship.  But hey, you got to sharpen some programming skills and that looks good on your resume. What about the company?

You see, my advice, unless you really want to become a software development company specializing in customized Open Source tools for product information, buy a real solution that someone else has to maintain and keep the DIY projects for your “Honey Do’s” on the weekend.

There is no I in Team

About Single-Sourcing Solutions: We are different, here’s why

By Janice Summers

No doubt you have heard all the clichéd phrases; “There is no I in Team”, “There is safety in numbers”, “One is the loneliest number”, “No man is an island”, “Life is not lived in a vacuum”, etc…..

Ever stop to think of why these phrases came about? As with many things, they came about as sage pearls of wisdom to live by. They were first uttered by those who had experienced the isolation of being the only one then experienced the benefits of working with others.

When Single-Sourcing Solutions was formed years ago, we wanted to heed the words of wisdom. Why not learn from others on what works well and what does not. We all had been around a block or two and had experience in working for various companies with many types of configurations. We had already witnessed what had worked well and what had failed miserably.  When it came time for us to design our company, we wanted to take what worked the best and leave the rest behind.

So we designed our company to work as a collective team. Each person has strength and we all have weaknesses. The key is to leverage the strengths of each other and create a stronger solution. How do we do that? Well, we know that there is not one view, opinion, or perspective. There are many and each holds value. I know, it sounds a bit utopian, but in a specialized firm like ours, there is no place to hide so it works.

So how do we apply this to our client engagements? It is never just one person left out on their own since we all work in integration. The benefit to our customers is that when our team is engaged on their project, they have more diverse expertise to solve their needs. Where one person may not be as skilled in a particular area, there is another who excels. We see this balance of skill and transfer of knowledge all the time.

The end result is that we are able to achieve far greater results for our customers. The projects never rest on only one person’s shoulders so if they need to take time away from work the project does not suffer and the customer never misses a beat. Since, let’s face it, solving content design and layout involves a little bit of art, the customer has the advantage of not one perspective, but many on how to best solve their needs. Another collateral advantage is that the consultants gain deeper skills from leveraging off of each other and experience a much more satisfying career.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the independent consultants out there, I am simply saying we are different and why.  So when you engage with us you engage with our team, and therefore you don’t have to hope that you got the best person assigned to your project; instead, you have hired the best team.

It’s just like riding a bike

by Janice

Recently I have been having several conversations with people about the importance of training and with the Winter Olympics going on right now, this seemed like the perfect time for this post.

Remember the first time you rode a bike?

The first time you get on a bike, you’re not sure what to do and there seems to be so many things to manage. First there the ability to balance on the bike without falling off, then there are petals to pump and handlebars to use to steer the bike, and the breaks, and the gears that need shifting. It is a lot to take in for someone who has never been on a bike. There is a long way to go between where you are at that moment and being Lance Armstrong. With work and determination you can get there.

There are a couple of ways you could go about learning how to ride your new bike. One is to just jump on and figure it out as you go. Sure you will crash a lot, might not learn how to really shift the gears or when you are supposed to shift then at all, but eventually you will get some forward movement. You’ll have a lot of scraps and scratches though and your fair share of bruises.

There is another way. It’s probably the way most of us learned how to ride a bike. We started out with a teacher and possibly some training wheels. As we learn how to master balance and coordination, we eventually remove the training wheels and we listen to the coaching from our teacher on how to safely steer and break and shift. Having someone there to help guide you on your journey to bicycle helps you master the tool without nearly as many bumps and scrapes.

Training wheels
Take off the training wheels when you’re ready

Learning the Arbortext tool set is like riding a bike. At first it’s a bit shaky, you’re not sure of where you are going or how to properly navigate the tool commands to maximize productivity. You make mistakes along the way, but then you get right back on the bike and go again. The more you do the more proficient you become and the faster you can hit your objectives.

Just like riding a bike, there is more than one way to learn how to use Arbortext. You could go it alone and learn through trial and error. Fortunately there is also a large and very active user community out there that is willing to help give you pointers along the way. It may take time, but you will eventually get to a level of proficiency. Problem is, in business we don’t often have the luxury of time for this type of learning.

There is a better way. Most people quickly learn that in order to maximize their use of the tools and to drastically shorten the learning time, they seek out a more formalized training from someone with the expertise to guide them. Good training requires that the instructor guides you through the tool and helps you discover balance and speed through your efforts. They adjust the training based on the needs of the learner offering just the right amount of support just when you need it. That is how Single-Sourcing Solutions designed our Jump Start training program, to offer just the right amount of support you need when you need it while getting you to the highest level of productivity in the shortest possible amount for time.