Have you ever had co-workers come back from the latest conference with brochures and a gleam in their eye about the latest new software application, tool, or utility they saw in a demo, presentation or keynote speech? How about the manager who has no idea about what software is running within his/her company who comes back from a day of golf,… excuse me, a day of consulting with their peers and now has a great idea on how to revolutionize the IT department, save money, and reduce head count while providing more services? And then there are the constant influx of sales staff who want to come in for a meeting that you never asked for and you don’t have time to attend to show you how their latest product or release will make you famous in your organization and help you get that big bonus or promotion that you know you deserve.
The problem is that all too often the ‘new’ thing they are trying to sell you can already be done using existing software and services you already have but have never used. A good example of having software that you are not taking full advantage of is the Microsoft Office Suite. Have you ever had someone try to convince you or your management that you need a custom form generation tool so you can digitalize all your organization’s forms and go paperless saving tons of money by not needing as many printers, printer supplies, paper, storage for the resulting paper, etc. The goal to go paperless is an admirable goal, but have you really considered the tools you already have and decided that they absolutely could not meet your needs?
For example, how many people know how to create forms using Microsoft Word? Did you know that you can include data fields in the Word document that include not only text fields, but check boxes, radio (option) buttons, dropdown selections, and more? Did you know that you could protect the document from inadvertent changes by the user by locking the text but leaving the input fields editable? Did you know that you could generate PDF forms directly from your Word document?
Let’s take a deeper look at forms. Have you looked at the programs included in the Microsoft Office suite version purchased by most corporations? Did you notice a program called InfoPath? Maybe you have no idea what InfoPath is. Maybe you think that InfoPath only works with SharePoint. It does not. In fact, you can use InfoPath forms from a file share or use them in emails to get responses from uses.
If you took the time to learn the tools you already have, would you need that other software? I’ve heard the argument that staff members never used these tools because they have not been trained on how to use them. Serious, you believe that the new software will provide that much better training?
Another example is the use of images. It is easy today for people to take pictures with their digital cameras or even their smart phones and try to insert those pictures into documents, PowerPoint presentations, and even web pages. However, did you do any editing of the picture before you used it? Did you crop the picture down to only the important elements? Do you really need the sky to take up half the top of the picture or the ground to consume a third of the lower half of the picture? Did you take the time to remove red-eye effects from the people or do you just like those glowing red eyes in the photos of your boss? Again if you have the Microsoft Office Suite, there is a tool that can be found in the Start Menu under the Microsoft Office folder à Miccrosoft Office Tools à Microsoft Office Picture Manager that can do much of your image editing. Furthermore, if you simply add the picture into a Microsoft Office Word 2010 document, you can select the image and access many image editing features directly from within Word.
If you have been reading my blogs for the last year, you probably already know that I am a major proponent of using PowerPivot for Excel to analyze departmental data. There is no need to buy a fancy and expense business analysis tool to perform basic analysis if you have a good understanding of how to use Excel. I just heard that the Walgreen drug store chain uses PowerPivot, not a fancy and expensive BI tool, to analyze all their data. Sure you might want to work with your DBA to build the data infrastructure (data model), but with all the tools in Microsoft Excel 2010, you can custom format your pivot tables, pivot charts, and other data using conditional formatting, Sparklines, and other features into a functional management dashboard. If your organization also uses SharePoint 2010 Enterprise and upgrades the database to SQL Server 2012, a new included feature called Power View (yes, it is two words) provides more controls to ‘dress up ‘ your analysis results to look as good as most of the commercial business intelligence analysis tools.
Now don’t assume that I mean to imply that you should never consider other products or services. The IT industry is in constant flux and sometimes new tools are exactly what you need. However, I do strongly recommend that you look at new tools with both eyes wide open and with a strong understanding of what your existing tools are capable (even if you are not yet using those features). Also do not be distracted by flashy presentations or ‘if you buy today’ type of high pressure sales offers. Consider what opportunities the new tool brings to the table that you do not have but that after a reasonable analysis you decide that you and your organization really needs. And always, always be sure that what you really need does not already exist in a tool that you already own.
C’ya next time.