September 13, 2011
When Something Is So Good, It's Hard To Imagine It Will Ever Be Matched
The famous connoisseur Jim Murray said of the 1974 Ardbeg Provenance: "This is the finest whisky I have ever tasted. As close to perfection as makes no difference." Ever notice that every once in a while, something comes along in which it seems heaven, earth and the stars were aligned? It's as if all of the ingredients came together to create something so amazing, it's hard to imagine it could ever be matched.
Microsoft Excel Is IT's Answer To The 1974 Ardbeg Provenance
I felt this way when I used Microsoft Excel in 1996. At the time I was a geologist responsible for accurately steering an oil drilling bit 3,000 meters below the surface of a Montana farm field. With Excel and the magical help of John Walkenbach's advanced Excel programming books, I could create a graphical representation of the well bore's profile from downhole telemetry data, condensed so that the drillers and I could easily see which way the bit was going thanks to Excel's charting functions and some tricky Visual Basic wizardry. It seemed there was nothing that Excel could not do.
Used In Ways The Designers Never Imagined
I am certain that the designers of Excel never envisioned that use case (I know this because one of the original product managers is a former colleague and we talked about it), but the product was so functional that a skilled user could make it do virtually anything. It saved us literally days of drilling at $30,000 per day because we could see so much more easily what was going on beneath our feet. We could drill a well an average of 20% faster than our competitors – a significant advantage when at the time the price of oil was so low, that the profit from the wells would take 5 years or more to be realized.
It Was So Good I Paid $3,000 Out Of My Own Pocket To Use It
The company didn't provide the computers I used to do this initially. I had gotten proficient with Excel while working for another company in Alaska, but when I came to Montana, the profit margins for the companies were so thin and computers so expensive, that they could not see the potential value, so I went out and bought my own, much as I did with my MacBook Air a few weeks ago. Incidentally, that's about the same as a bottle of 1974 Provenance would cost if you could find one today!
Take These Four Steps To Create Competitive Advantage From New End User Computing Technologies
I'm telling you this story as an end user computing professional because I want to illustrate how critically important it is to do four things as you look at the influx of new devices and the software that runs on them.
- Recognize that new devices and applications can represent competitive advantage. Understand the uses that people have for them and when you find something truly compelling to them, find a way to embrace and expand its use to others. Freedom to use new tools unleashes creative problem solving.
- Look for one or two game changers like Excel in the latest crop of desktop and mobile apps. Look for the Ardbeg Provenance in the rough. These days, OmniFocus on the Mac is a game changer for me because my biggest challenge is no longer steering oil drilling bits, but rather time management and reducing the stress of keeping a lot of balls in the air.
- Watch carefully for lessons in the way the most advanced users have adapted your environment to use new technologies. Think more about how you can unlock this for others, and less about controlling and suppressing it, for fear it will create more work for you. What if my company had forbidden the use of PCs at the wellsite for fear of having to support them?
- Collect your observations and the wisest words and methods you learn from your end users. Use it to form the backdrop of the business case you present to IT leaders to ask for money.