Keeping It Real With Microsoft Office: Asking Questions About Solution Design

I just finished a whirlwind swing through Amsterdam, The Hague, Antwerp, and finally Vienna Austria. I've already blogged about the first three cities, but this last one is the focus of this post.

I went to Vienna mainly to meet with some customers in order to provide guidance around Office solutions and also to gather input and feedback. Most of my time on Friday 2 April was spent meeting with Rubicon (, one of our Gold Partners based in Vienna. Thomas Kuhta, CEO for Rubicon, and his team including Markus Leimhofer and Ernst Scheithauer, along with representatives from Vienna Insurance Group and Business Insurance Application Consulting (Martin Bischof) showed me the details of an elaborate Microsoft Office-based solution called ECMS. This solution is designed to meet the needs of customers across many different geographies and includes a mobile-user option.

You can read more about it here: Customer- wr städtische Partner- rubicon

It's all in German, but using Bing Translator you get a pretty good rendition in English or the language of your choosing.

What impresses me about all of this is the final value things like Open XML in Microsoft Office bring. For developers, there's always a temptation to get caught up in the excitement of a given technology-a mostly intellectual enterprise. I made this mistake earlier in my career, and it was costly. Fortunately, I gained wisdom and learned that we need to 'keep things real' and always focus on what the final value is on a number of important fronts. Below are a few considerations.

As you approach a given task or project, force yourself to ask the tough questions such as:

-- Will what I'm doing make life easier for a non-technical person? Even if it will, can I move their experience from good to better to best?

Most business solutions built on Microsoft Office are designed to save users time, reduce complexity, or automate steps in a long process. But, that's the minimum requirement. Reach farther.

-- Is what I'm about to code have an inherent ability to adapt to new business needs and new requirements?

Business solutions are often out of date soon after they are rolled out. That's OK, and it's to be expected. Business needs change, and your design has to take this into account. At the same time, don't fall into the trap of over-engineering things. You want to build in flexibility without trying to create nearly infinite adaptability which will ultimately add milestones to your schedule.

-- On a scale of 1 to 10, to what extent is the technology I'm using in this solution untested, untried, or just a fad?

This one is tricky. New things are not necessarily to be avoided. But, to figure out which new technologies to bet on, take into account the big picture. See how the new technology or software fits into the broader context of where the industry is going. It's analogous to being a trader on Wall Street. Many traders desperately and usually fail to pick out of nowhere the next "big thing" and cash in on that IPO or stock. The risks are huge. Taking a similar approach to software technologies is foolish at best, because no CIO's can take those kinds of risks in their IT infrastructure. But, that doesn't mean you need to sit on your hands and wait until a technology is super popular to get started. You might miss some important opportunities. So, to mitigate the risk, get informed (just like a stock trader should!). Learn as much as you can not just about the technology but even more about the overall market and industry. This will help you avoid costly mistakes.

-- Does the functional design build on existing user experiences or does it require a completely new set of UI and software requirements?

People love the user experience in Microsoft Office. Why not build on that rather than creating an application with completely distinct UI and flow? Many of our partners, like Rubicon, do just this. They leverage the familiarity of Microsoft Office to land an augmented experience through a custom solution.

So-as I sat in the beautiful offices of Rubicon there in Vienna Austria I was struck by how well they had made the right calls, in my personal view, both technically and strategically. Later on, I was able to see the city, and I must say it is one of the cleanest European cities I have ever seen. The architecture is distinct and classy. I could sense the history of the place-a palpable desire to reach higher. Even the taxi driver who drove me to the airport for my trip home at 4am was so excited to have me listen to his "Learn English on CD" training courses. He was thrilled to be learning something new and couldn't wait to try it out on me at 110 decibels!

Comments (1)

  1. XL-Dennis says:


    I defintely agree on that Vienna is such a nice city with all its old buildings and history.

    Nice to see that people from MSFT spend time with partners around the globe. What You discovered in Vienna is for small office consultants no news at all since that is what we have been doing for the last 20 years or so. Office is excellent in that we can use a well known environment to leverage business usefulness for co-workers and decision makers on a daily basis.

    What we need is an improvement of the VB IDE, VBA itself and  together with updated Office Object Models. After all, the present development platform was released around 1993 so it’s high time to make a real make over. Please don’t point me to .NET/VSTO and all the hot latest technologies as they are not in focus here.

    Thanks and keep up the good work,


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