My Name’s Tucker – Not Sucker !

This is NOT a discussion of “Precision” of Excel Formulae –  for that see http://smurfonspreadsheets.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/excel-cant-add/ ….. :-)   This is about the Business Math of Excel and/or Access development.  (I know you all like short snappers on Blogs but sometimes the issue needs to be fleshed out).

I have always had a difficult time coming up with “fair and balanced” terms whenever I am negotiating with large consulting organizations for work in Excel or Access.  Part of this is the usual problem of how much a “Pimp” is worth (with all due respect of course).

The fact is that Desktop Development such as “I” (and I assume “You”) do is anathema to the model of a typical Consulting firm.  I use the tools I use because I want to deliver the best possible solution to my clients for the least money to them and for the most money to me on a net per hour of effort.  Lately that means getting adequate Fixed Price deals and praying for no “gotchas”, but in the end it all comes down to the most money for each unit of work I provide.  If I do not provide my results for a reasonable cost the business will simply not be justifiable on the part of the client and trouble will (or at least repeat business will not) ensue……

In a large technology consulting practice the focus is on finding projects where the most money is available for whatever project and squeezing the maximum out of the client.  Does that sound cynical – sorry :-)…..  That is not because they are bad people, it is because they are first and foremost business people.  Business people with a model based not so much on the joys of clever and efficient, flexible and maintainable  solutions and the assumption that making the client happy will lead to more business and adequate compensation but moreso on providing solutions that satisfy that “professional” veneer that large IT shops demand to satisfy their sense that what they’re paying for is up to their high standards. 

It’d be great to be able to take the businessman’s approach to Office development, but my problem is that IT simply doesn’t consider Excel or Access fitting their model (and they’re right) and so if I am accepted at all I am relegated to low budget, quick and dirty prototyping temporary solutions where budgets are low but at least usually expectations aren’t great either.  As I’ve said before IT has more and more become the “gatekeeper” to technology budget.  The days of end-user client departments paying the contract are pretty much gone.   What we have to do is find a way to sell into this environment with claims (and proof) that we can deliver productive solutions for low cost and usually on a short time and then go ot and get enough of that business to keep the “lights on”.

But if our services are to be offered as part of the offerings of a large consulting firm, the business managers of that firm would be crazy to allow us to go in and draw down their average and threaten their precious “Premium” business – and rightly so.

So in the end I believe that the only way to organize a “firm” that delivers Excel or Access solutions would be to organize it exclusively for that purpose with a business model wrapped around the realities of that type of development.  That means a business driven by productivity not gross billings.  A business that flies against what would be considered “normal” business rules.  The idea has to be to deliver and deliver and deliver as efficiently and as cleanly as possible.  That means people with top skills that understand and appreciate what their technology can and cannot do and who are looking for satisfied repeat customers and referrals.  It needs people who love wat they’re doing and believe in what they’re doing.  But who know that they deserve at least as much as your typical .NET developer or SQL Server DBA, and the business succeeds or fails on that basis – not on the gross profit after paying as little as possible to those that actually do the work. 

I have noticed that many large firms get the one BIG score and then don’t come back for several cycles (unless they’re smart enough to get the client to sign a long-term contract – which always stuns me in its awesome stupidity ….).  That model does not work for us.  Happy loyal clients has to be our stock in trade.

Will this model work?  It will if it’s run like a Law or Accounting firm with working, billing Partners as the sole owners (no VCs thank you).  I believe though that until Microsoft does what they have to do to support this community (their community)  with the necessary “Spin” in THEIR message in the field, this will not be a reality. 

I saw this in the heady Y2K days and it worked, for a while – then the bubble burst.  This has to be a new business model that will stand the test of time and be a parallel force to those chasing the BIG scores.  Otherwise we’re done.  It will be time to give up and become .NET developers and let the customers learn the hard way that we DID provide something they really need… As I always try to think “My name’s Tucker, not Sucker!”  

Dick

p.s. Thoughts ??  Harlan ??

About Biggus Dickus

Dick is a consultant in London, ON Canada who specializes in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Office Development.
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2 Responses to My Name’s Tucker – Not Sucker !

  1. Mathias says:

    Hi Dick,

    Interesting post. First comment – the idea to “deliver and deliver and deliver as efficiently and as cleanly as possible” isn’t specific to Excel or Access development, it’s a pretty good summary of what the Agile methodologies are about, and is a goal of lots of developers, independently of the technology they use. Regardless of whether I work on an Excel or .NET project, I always try to deliver often, and stick to what the client wants, getting as much feedback as possible.
    Part of the issue I think is that first, working through a consulting company introduces an extra layer between the developer and the final user, and that is never good. You end up developing for two users instead of one, with potentially conflicting agendas.
    The second issue is that, in my opinion, Excel models (I can’t speak for Access) are well suited for small projects, but don’t scale well. In my experience, Excel projects work great when the target is a handful of power-users who know what they want, but can’t fully execute. These are niche projects, which will be extremely useful to a few people, who will respect what you do and come back for more. What you won’t be able to do is company-wide, multi-users applications, which is the bread and butter of IT consulting firms.
    In the end, I believe in development Karma. It’s sometimes difficult to get the foot in the door, but if you deliver something which makes your customer happy, they’ll come back.

  2. Dick Moffat says:

    “In the end, I believe in development Karma. It’s sometimes difficult to get the foot in the door, but if you deliver something which makes your customer happy, they’ll come back.”

    I forgot to explain in the post that unless there are “Firms” offering our services going forward it will continue to get harder and harder to “get the foot in the door” as you say. Being a one-man band is going to be harder and harder to sell – unless we are willing to accept working for small businesses exclusively for minimum wage….

    Dick

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