Office v rest of world

Following on from the office v browser discussion we were having.

I was chatting this through with one of my ‘big system’ buddies a while ago, here is what we came up with:

Excel/VBA is often used for housekeeping, day to day type work. It is used for full systems too, but often it is short term tactical solutions. Often they are a single developer or a small team. It is also used to finish what the big systems promise but never seem to fully deliver. A rough cost might be 10 – 50k.

Big system implementations such as Essbase, Magnitude, or Business Objects are often pretty large projects with perhaps 10/20 or more people involved. There are also significant licence costs involved, and often new hardware. A rough cost would be 100k plus.

These big projects are often capitalised, where through the gift of modern accounting, the more you spend the greater the value of asset you create. The net result of this is that the best rates of pay would seem to be in and around big system implementations that are going to the balance sheet, rather than day to day fire fighting that is going straight to the P&L. The former projects seem quite price insensitive.

Has anyone else seen this? would you agree?

I’m sure we have all seen counter examples, or massive projects based around office apps, but in general I think this could be valid. I’ve worked on quite a few big system implementations and in general there does seem more budget available than when doing some basic reporting app. Maybe the life expectancy of the app has some impact? (on some sort of unspoken cost per year basis?)

I’m wondering if others have seen this, whether developing skills in one of these ‘big systems’ might pay off more than say .net programming skills. I guess effectively the question becomes what sort of project do you want to work on, and what technologies does that type of project tend to deliver?  And then of course whether or not its feasible to develop skills in that area.

I had a sniff around the Oracle site looking for developer versions of Essbase, but it didn’t jump out at me. This is where Microsoft put all the other vendors to shame, Microsoft products are just so accessible. They are like the Coca Cola of software (Coke are famous for their superb product distribution).

So has anyone else seen this ‘big system’ effect on rates? Or any other thoughts on technologies to focus on?



10 Responses to “Office v rest of world”

  1. MikeC Says:

    Simon- regards your “Coke” comparison for MS, I generally use “McDonalds”. Accessible pretty much anywhere there are people, universally used by almost everybody at some time, and by some people exclusively, convenient to use, and “does what it says on the tin adequately”.
    But: most people don’t really like it very much, no matter how much money is spent on trying to make them seem “nicer”, and they’re certainly no specialist, high-service restaurant that does one type of food very well for a high price!

    Regards the use of specialist BI software, there’s a lot I would like to say, but unfortunately due to NDAs, there’s not much I can. Suffice to say, that our recent introduction of Business Objects hasn’t had quite the earth-shattering impact that was originally promised, and, considering the huge level of investment that took place for this, there are some pretty embarrassing questions being asked at the moment! SQL Server 2000 and Excel are still the mainstay of the BI software tools being used.

    The big implementations definitely have a bigger budget in companies, and, before roll-out are frequently touted as “the answer to the prayer”. As you mention, such is rarely the case, and often they end up used purely as a medium between existing tools, due to their relative inflexibility when compared to a tool like Excel. Often, Excel is used “is also used to finish what the big systems promise but never seem to fully deliver.”… which I find quite amusing as the intention is that BI departments are shifted to these applications in order to reduce our reliance on Excel! And all we do is build new Excel structures to cover the gaps in these apps…

    I’m not sure about ROI for people in a position such as yourselves, but I know that I certainly wouldn’t invest in a specialised app like this if I was spending my own money.

  2. MikeC Says:

    As an aside, within 5 mins of posting the above, I was approached to provide an Excel “solution” to a Business Objects output which wasn’t FFP.
    How’s that for timing?

  3. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    “I’m wondering if others have seen this, whether developing skills in one of these ‘big systems’ might pay off more than say .net programming skills.”

    There are indeed a number of “Business Objects jobs” available. Consultants building BO universes for instance.

  4. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    I’m a subcontractor (read Excel specialist) to some ERP and BI consultants. From what I have seen it’s more pressure and more issues and despite the high rates it’s not attractive for me.

    Mike- Thanks for the “McDonald” view which I from now will use.

    Kind regards,

  5. Will Riley Says:


    Excellent analogy to the Big Mac ;)

    To be honest, we took the view, having looked at the offerings of BO etc on the BI front that we would always be “filling in the gaps” with the Office suite in terms of BI, no matter how much we spent soooo

    We embraced the MSFT BI Toolkit in terms of SSRS/SSAS and delivering the gaps via Office 2007 over a MOSS delivery platform. At the moment all I can say is that it’s more bleeding edge than cutting edge (in terms of integrating everything) however we have been really encouraged by our results to date…

    I take the view that it was woth studying for my MCITS/MCITP in the SQL 2005 BI Toolkit (I take the exam in May) however that alone does not give me a skillset to die for. Recently I was approached for another job in the BI-sphere and they were as interested in my Accountancy training and Excel VBA skills as they were in my SQL & BI Toolkit skills so to me that sort of says it all.

    Granted I could get jobs in London purely on BI alone, however I have done my tour of duty there, and out in the UK regoins, companies seem to prefer all-rounders than specialists in this field…

  6. MikeC Says:

    thanks for that info regards your experience from the MCTS/MCITP, as this was one of the options I’m currently looking at. Admittedly, it was a very distant third place, as the only advantage it seems to offer is that it’s in SQL 2005 from the outset, rather than 2000 for the MCDBA. Your comments about employers outside of London are also useful, seeing as I’m in Yorkshire…!

    PS: nice to see I’m not the only cynic around here…..! =;-)

  7. Simon Says:

    I was in London last week for a course.
    There is lots to like about it, but overall I’m glad my ‘tour of duty’ there is done (for the time being anyway!)

  8. Will Riley Says:


    Nowadays London is just nice to visit once in a while…. although wasn’t it darned hot at Damons get together last year!! Thank god for cold beer!

  9. Marcus Says:

    Slightly OT but I thought you’d be interested in a posting on JoS called ‘VBA for Macintosh goes away’.

    One of the more interesting lines (from my POV) is: “Microsoft thought that if people wrote lots and lots of VBA code, they would be locked in to Microsoft Office….building a highly strategic barrier to entry, and locking in Excel users, especially corporate users who are most likely to build large systems based on macros.”

    Joel makes an interesting point about providing customers with a poignant opportunity to re-evaluate their software choices, now that Microsoft has pulled the rug from under the primary reason for sticking with a platform. Without VBA, how many corporates will implement alternatives? Case in point: by pulling the rug from VB6 I’ve now stood back and assess my platform choices and currently take Delphi as a more likely candidate than I would had VB6 support continued.

    Could Microsoft ever be so blatantly vacuous as to retire VBA without a sound migration path?

    Cheers – Marcus

  10. Simon Says:

    Thanks for the headsup Marcus, this probably deserves a post of its own.

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