Build or Buy?

Think you need a reporting solution?  Deciding to build or buy?  Let me tell you a story…

Roughly 25 years ago, I was hired out of Waterloo to work at Petro-Canada in Calgary. My office was almost at the top of the tallest building, had glass walls, a solid wood door, and a window so vast you could practically see downtown Winnipeg. Almost as big as the window was a state-of-the-art 19” monitor that was more deep than tall.  This was the big time!  My job was to maintain a reporting system that a high-priced consultant had spent months building using Quick Basic and Excel 4.0. It consolidated data from a number of systems and generated spreadsheets for each retail gas station. Throwing myself to the task, for all of about 4 days I quickly came to the conclusion that this consultant didn’t know what he was doing. After all, I was a Waterloo grad and surely I knew better!?

I don’t know how I managed to get my big head in and out of that office.

Every company has these Wunderkinds. They have just enough knowledge, way too much moxie, and an endless passion for challenges. Fuelled by the people around them constantly impressed with their work, they soak up all the praise like a sponge. They love a challenge, hate repetition, and so are compelled to automate. These younglings are priceless but they can also be a pain to manage. However, they make their bosses look great and their work impresses at the monthly executive meetings.

But after a while, what happens? Their great innovations become expectations. Their hard work is rewarded with more hard work. They churn out report after report, dashboard after dashboard, all the while in the back of their minds, they toil… it’s getting monotonous.

The kids love the accolades. They’re seen as saviours and shining stars that bring light to the doldrum of spreadsheet hell. Eventually, they get tired, and they move on. Maybe they get promoted or they jump ship to a new opportunity. And now you discover that you have replaced all those spreadsheets, and all those original authors who had finally been released from their responsibilities, with fancy new dashboards that no longer update and no one knows how to operate. What do you do now?

For me, it took about ten years to figure out how to capitalize on my skill set.  All those that know me, know me to be the Excel guy, and it’s awesome. I’ve got my own Wunderkind now to manage and I finally realize how much of a pain it can be!  If my old bosses are out there reading this; Ange C, Dave W, Jon H, I get it now and I’m sorry!  Karma doesn’t forget.

It’s a lovely story and a further example that my head is probably still too big, but here’s the call to action… There are few companies out there like ours that do this work. We do it day in and day out. We know the ins and outs and how to work the systems.  We’ve got staff to back up staff and systems to make sure it’s all correct.

A few of us Wunderkinds get lucky enough to have their passion be their work. And fewer still are able to surround themselves with like-minded people anxious to learn the next great Excel function.  Hint… it’s XLOOKUP