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Open source and Outsource

It’s been an interesting week overall and one which has made me ponder on two very different topics.

Open Source
I went to a very interesting presentation this week (breakfast at The Ivy darling) to hear about the use of Open Source. It was put on by The Reading Room (thanks btw, very decent of you) where they got the CEO and two clients to talk about Open Source. These days most non nerds think Open Source as CMS – WordPress/Drupal/Magento. Glad to hear at this presentation that its acknowledged that its a billion times more than that. Also, very interesting to hear the views that Open Source is big business, not bedroom coders doing bedroom coder stuff. I pondered on this while walking across London and really couldn’t remember the last time we as a business recommended a CMS, CRM or any other acronym based thingy which wasn’t Open Source. Actually thats a tiny lie, I have told a few people that Kashflow is my favourite accounting system..

One thing I think missing from the evaluation of Open Source is the balance between the fit with the project and the overhead of the bespoke bit to ‘make it work’. Projects need to look beautiful, need to be creative and need to be not constrained by the tech underneath that most don’t care about. When considering a paid bit of software (remember the good ole’ days) due diligence was a massive part of choice and speaking to the vendor’s sales team, tech team and cleaner was normal to make sure it fitted. But with Open Source, just to pick one out of the air, Drupal, who do you speak to? Who will make sure that its architecture is correct? Who will match it up with the Agile board/roadmap, wish list? I guess the answer is the agency pitching to do the work. But then most people can make a square peg fit in a round hole if its their favourite, most experienced bit of software. Oddly, in those days this evaluation was a expensive piece of paid work, now its just part of the pitch…isn’t it?

Thats why I like the model we use, a small core team then huge base of trusted contractors who we can work with and get opinions for new projects. They may be biased to their preferred tools, but they aren’t one unit. So you get a nice balanced assessment. Which does bring nicely onto the other title bit…

This week I have come across two totally separated projects that have fallen to the dreaded over promised delivery of work by out sourced businesses abroad. Most weeks I come across some project that has gone critical and asked to help, but what made me ponder was both were from the same country in Eastern Europe.

When you say outsourcing to most people on the UK (and I guess USA) they have an image of 12 million Indian developers in a terraced house working on green screen monitors making lots of shouty noises. I guess that could be the case, but really? No, not really actually.

“In business, outsourcing is the contracting out of a business process to a third-party”

Wikipedia doesn’t lie…

There is no wording in the above that says ‘must be sweat shop’ or ‘must be Indian or Eastern European’ or ‘must be paid $1 a day’.

So why do they fail so often. Are the coders rubbish? There is the idea that the good ones move to the US or UK to earn proper money, so the ones over there are the [politely] less good. I think that is horse pooh. What about the good ones who have families and whose children are at school and think the idea of living in the west is horrid? So bin that statement, like any team, some members are amazing, some are good, and some are, um, good[ish]

I think most of these projects go wrong because they were on the road to crashing BEFORE people went to outsource. Or, they wanted to get it developed for no money. Or they were clueless at Project Management. Or they had no one on side who was technical to validate, write requirements and check stuff. Its more a case of throwing bombs over fences then moaning that they went off. Its also a case of assuming everyone works the same. There are massive cultural and language differences at stake here, it doesn’t mean someone is wrong or lied or bullsh*tted, it means they didn’t understand, didn’t like to say they don’t know, couldn’t argue with the client. To work like this as product owners we need to respect and learn about the team doing the work. Like you would if they were inthe same office.

Thing is, all of the clients we have at weheartdigitial mean they have outsourced to us. And I have colour monitors and a coffee machine. And we outsource also, to the engineers we use who are not PAYE. And we deliver projects all the time, and have happy clients. Its not because we only use UK based people (we do this not because we feel outside of the UK they are rubbish, certainly not, but because we only use mates we have worked with for years, and feels ‘right’ to us to pass money through the UK economy) its because we check requirements, we communicate and we actively badger clients who don’t seem to be ‘in’ on projects they are paying for.

Hmmm, this sounded like a rant today, I thought this would happen but not in the second post! Teach me for being old.

In summary Open Source is great, but not the golden challis and needs as much thought as non Open Source, and I love Indians.


Responsive Everything

Happy Friday everyone.

After some meeting of some great people this week, there is a couple of things that come to mind, Responsive Design and Big Data.

Responsive Things
A few years ago, if you said that you would make a site responsive you would get two answers. 1) Our users respond very well to it or 2) Ha, yeah, right, you just want more money.

Whereas now, people get it…they think.

Generally its a rather wonderful WordPress theme that just hides the Top Level menu and shifts stuff about a bit or a full on design based on a grid system that shifts stuff about a bit. 3 column, down to 2 column, down to 1 column…


So here is where I am at. Responsive User Journeys, or Responsive Use Cases to me is MUCH more realistic, and much wiser.

An obvious example (cos its Friday and I am drinking Cider). Facebook on t’internet what do you do? Read the feed, watch videos, like, comment, play games, use FB Apps….

What do you do on your mobile? Read the feed, watch videos, UPLOAD IMAGES FROM YOUR PHONE…

Amazon on the desktop – Slowly browse, look at recommendations, deep link from google, buy stuff you didn’t know you wanted, add/edit credit cards, look at My Account. On mobile, LOOK FOR A SPECIFIC ITEM, Buy that item

Different use cases for different devices. Apps have nailed it as they build them with the app in mind. We can do this with web, so lets just do it…

Later, as we are in the Internet of Things part of our lives, do you think we will be designing all things to work on all Things? Nah, everything will become more focused, more sleek, smaller, simpler, etc…

Big Data not Big Databases
So many times we get offered projects that are hip and cool because they are going to use Big Data. Or so they say. And what is this Big Data project I ask. Oh, its a website that 1,000,000 visitors will hit everyday. Or a website that has some clever mechanism for doing something really complex that hasn’t been done before.

Its isn’t that is it. Big data is not lots of data or lots of users. It could be, but depends. Its a scenario where the data or algorithms, or processing is SOOOOO huge it has to be distributed, stored in a special way on lots of machines, processed in massive parallel data centres, etc. A million ain’t big…

eBay, Google, Amazon, Weather, Telescopes, blah blah blah are big data.

Anyway, always turns into a slight rant doesn’t it.

Digital isn’t just projects…

It’s funny isn’t it, I have been meaning for yonks to right thoughts about this digital space we work and live in. And then, this digital space prompts me to do it. So cheers LinkedIn, thanks for reminding me that I don’t get round to stuff, and thanks for helping me get round to stuff.

Todays thought is possibly a slight rant. When creating/developing and building beautiful things online, the tendency over time is to think of it as ‘a project with a deadline’ or ‘£nnnn.nn revenue which needs invoicing’ or sometimes ‘the thing we have to do for that client who keeps on emailing us’. We, as people who love this digital stuff need to treat ALL projects the way a musician writes a song, or an artist paints a picture and stay focused on what is right, what works and what makes people smile.

When I used to to TV stuff, to make developers think less thats its just code, and more that its a real thing with real users, we would get them to check stuff out on their TV at home, or their mums TV – suddenly it becomes real. Same with web, tablet and mobile (new Acronym maybe WTM), move away from your desk, borrow your partners phone, Chromecast it to a TV, check it out at a mates house, anything that gently reminds you that users aren’t part of the project team and need to just ‘get it’ – the 2 second rule.

Then a project will not just be The Good Enough Line; it will be something to show off, something to be proud of, something to add to your CV.

Rant over, soap box away now…

(As long as we don’t end up with The Homer…)