Its about the customer, not the technology

April 18 2008

Today, the hard work of multiple PSC employees on a discovery project was presented to a customer. We were reviewing an application framework and making recommendations. One of the pieces is the Output Generation Layer. The requirement is to have the output be in PowerPoint files. From there, they can generate a PDF or HTML, but we need something that in an electronic presentation format that scales.

When I came to PSC, I was a very one-sided consultant. I was passionate about Lotus Notes and Lotus SmartSuite. I tolerated Microsoft Office, because people used it. But anything else, I loathed. I was so focused on the holy war of one technology and brand that I hated everything else. It didn't matter if it was Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, or anyone else .. it was not Lotus. And for many years, only the Lotus brand at IBM was something I cared about.

PSC describes itself as a business technology services consulting firm. Our job is to listen (get it, it's all in the way we listen) and help solve problems. We believe in this listening foundation so much it is part of our email domain! Our job is not to force one technology on a customer. What we do is evaluate the problem, make recommendations, and then apply those recommendations to a technology the customer is comfortable with. We do get to make technology recommendations, and I am always thinking about how Notes and the other Lotus and IBM products can be used. PSC is bigger than just being an IBM partner. We have a large Microsoft team (and yes, we do SharePoint work ... lots of it) and we work with portals other than Websphere. We have a great open source team that is doing work with Django and other technologies. We have a health care practice in Kansas City. We even have SAP, Oracle, and Google practices within the company. This helps us stand out from many of our competitors.

I was asked recently "Can you be an evangelist and still be open minded to technologies you do not like?" I think that is a great question. I believe the answer is "Yes!"

So back to the customer proposal. Based on the needs of the customer, our recommendation is to build an Output Generation Layer that creates the PowerPoint files on the server without any interaction from the user. The best way to do this is using OOXML. I am going to let that sink in. Yes, we are making the recommendation to use OOXML. I spent time reviewing the functionality that allows me to create a .NET application and use OOXML to generate the PPTx files. It supports all the features we need TODAY in PowerPoint 2007. I do not have to wait for anything in the new version. Nothing from the standard's board as they begin the process of making OOXML a standard.

Now, I know some of you are out there scratching your head. Why would the guy who loves Lotus Symphony and and presenting a fiery presentation at ILUG 2008 make this recommendation? Because it solves the business problem.

Working with customers is not about fighting a holy war for one technology or another. It is about listening to them and solving their problems. It is about making accurate assessments and honest estimates. If your favorite technology solves the problem and the customer is comfortable with that, perfect. But holding on to a holy war does not solve those problems.

Maybe this is a sign that I am leaving the hard core development world (and for that matter, was I really ever there) and moving more into the business and sales side. Not sure, but I really am excited about this. Heck, maybe this project can become one of the first OOXML case studies for PowerPoint!