Why You Need Experts

Everyone's heard the phrase by now, "If all you have is a hammer, every problem you see is a nail."

In IT, especially the web, this can be a big problem.

Let me tell you a story about a man I once worked with.

He was referred to me because he needed "a database."

However, rather than getting some basics and spending a month setting up this complicated database, I asked some questions. (These questions used to frustrate to no end some of the supervisor's I had in the past--- "I don't want to explain what I want, I just want you to do it.")

Did he know who his users were? No.

Did he want to do data entry? No.

Well, what did he want to do? He wanted to search some files. He wanted other people to be able to use this search.

Were the files secret or restricted access? No, they were public records. He didn't want the link on the front of the website, but there was nothing private in the files.

What kind of files? Office files or text files people emailed to him.


At the time I had at my disposal two specific tools, one could do custom searches on a web directory, the other could take Office and other "typical" file types and convert them into web pages, and then publish to a directory.

He never got a database.

He was given a directory to dump the files into, and my team acted as his backup. If a file came in on his mailing list, he saved it to the directory. The next morning, the file had been converted to a web page and the search engine had indexed it in his special search.

The whole thing took about a day and a half to set up, including making the hidden landing page for the search look nice.

He was happy, his "database" (that's what he called it) did what he wanted with minimal work on his end. I was happy, I didn't have to develop a database, a web application to search it, and a password schema for external users.

Sometimes people latch on to a specific word or technology and think it must do what they want.

I want a blog to share files with other users.
Do you want comments on your files?
Is this public access?
No. There's about 5 people.
Have you looked into a Sharepoint setup?
What's Sharepoint?

I need a spreadsheet.
Ok, what will you do with it?
Standardized data entry and reports.
Have you thought about a database?
No. How is that different?

We need Flash!
What do you want to do with Flash?
We want to make this website look cool! We want big movies about how great we are loading up whenever someone opens our page.
Who are your users?
Another department/organization/company has Flash and their boss met our boss at a conference and now we look lame.
Just humor me, who are your customers?
We help homeless people find jobs. They use donated computers with modems we set up at the shelters.
Time to delegate to someone who doesn't care about usability (and back slowly out of the room.))

We need GPS on all our field peoples phones.
Are the locations the people will be going in a GIS file?
Do you have anyone to create GPS reports?
Do you have anyone to read GPS reports?
Do you have anyone to monitor GPS tools?

What do you need to know?
What site they are at, but the supervisors need the phones to not be loud all the time, and only one person can call at once.
Would text messaging solve this problem? Or perhaps Blackberry emails?

We need a website.
What kind of website?
We have a lot of field people we need to get announcements to.
They work in the field all day?
Yes, they are only allowed to be in the building for fifteen minutes a day.
Do they have internet or intranet access in the field?
No. They all have phones, that's it.
Do the phones support text messages?
Let me show you what we can do with a mailing list....

You need experts because they know about all the tools in the toolbox. They know what the tools are, and they know when they should be used. They might not even be the one to use the tool (would you expect your arc welder to know how to hang sixty foot drapes?), but they will know when the tool should be used and why.

You need experts so they can help you find the best solution to your issue, not just a solution.

If you don't talk to your experts, you wind up with systems that don't really do what you need, and in the end, that can be worse than no system at all.

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