Skedsheet Blog

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Getting fancy with the Outlook calendar

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I went to visit a local company that was interested in looking at JobTracker, because they had built their own custom add-on to Outlook and it wasn’t working out.

The idea was great – very much like what we are doing with skedsheet – have a spreadsheet that talks to a calendar.  And it worked okay, but they had some very real problems that were forcing them to look at other options.

  1. They were building their own custom software. Building software is incredibly expensive, time consuming, and hard.  Even though the tools keep getting better and cheaper, it’s usually better to buy software than to try to build it yourself.  We know the cost of building software pretty well, and we expect to throw away a large percentage of the code we write.  But, because we can spread the cost over many customers, it’s not a huge penalty.
  2. They’re not technical folks. If you don’t have experience writing software, you’re at the mercy of the programmers you hire.  Most of the time you have very little control over the quality of the final product – if you ever get one.  When you’re presented with technical options, usually the only way you learn the “right way” to do something is by having experience messing it up before.  Luckily, they had a product that did some of what they wanted, but it had bugs and never was “quite right”.
  3. They didn’t imagine using the web. Because they had been using Outlook before, the way they specified the task to the programmer they hired was “build us a spreadsheet that can plug into Outlook”.  Since they were paying the guy hourly, they wanted the quick & dirty solution.  Because it wasn’t on the web, they couldn’t easily get to the schedules outside of the office and it was almost impossible to share with other people.  Basically, it could only be used by the office manager.

So, what ended up happening?  They paid someone tens of thousands of dollars for a database that functions like a very inflexible spreadsheet – all of the fields were set up by the programmer, and any new fields cost big bucks to add in.  After they would enter information about a customer into the spreadsheet/database, they pushed a button and this transferred the data to outlook.  Once in outlook, it never went back to the spreadsheet.  It was supposed to, but machines would crash if they tried to make it work the other way.

That’s when they gave up, and started looking at other options.  As a small manufacturing company, they learned the lesson the hard way – it’s much better for them to concentrate on what they do well.  Building their own software was an expensive diversion.


Written by Harry Hollander

February 24, 2009 at 6:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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