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Update on Resourcing and Whether There’s a Shortage

May 3, 2017

In previous posts, Where Have All the SampleManager Resources Gone? and Ditto For the LabWare LIMS/ELN, I talked about the fact that there seems to be quite a few people asking for Thermo Fisher Scientific and for LabWare resources but seemingly not finding them when there are actually resources available in the market. Today, I make my update.

First of all, having moved onto working with the LVS system, I’m paying somewhat less attention to all this than I used to. What I do know is that I keep getting calls for LIMS work through recruiters. That is typically not productive for my business because it means that either the recruiter is calling to offer me a permanent job -or- another, bigger consulting company already has the work, has oversold the resources they have, and looking to remedy the situation, which also doesn’t help build my business. In any case, what it IS useful for is to provide a rough idea of the work generally going on in the marketplace.

With that said, I vaguely think someone did mention LabWare to me, and only the LIMS, not the ELN – but what I keep getting calls for is the SampleManager product.

The Usual Question: Is There Really a Shortage?
With all the calls I’m getting, is there actually a shortage? If my phone is almost ringing off the hook with SampleManager work, is there a real need in the industry? (and the “ringing off the hook” is an exaggeration, of course, but it’s been an extremely active time, just to tell you that)

Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Some customers just hire any warm body they can find to recruit for them and there is no coordination. With a limited pool of people in any LIMS area, the likelihood is that we all get multiple calls for the same openings. That is certainly the case, right now.
  • Some of these calls are not about work that is a good fit even at the most basic levels. Some calls are for junior resources. When you’re a senior resource, you’re unlikely to consider taking a spot meant for a junior resource, partly because the rates will stink and partly because the work won’t be interesting.
  • Even beyond the basics, there are reasons why customer positions sit open for long periods of time. In one case I know of, the customer wants to find a local person. In any part of this country, all the local people are probably working on customers all over the country or world and too busy to work specifically with whomever is looking. So, finding someone local is not always possible. In another case I know of, the customer needs such a wide variety of skills that it’s just hard to find anyone that matches the greater majority of requirements they have. In these cases, though, as long as there is enough lead-time, this might not be a problem. If you wait long-enough, you will occasionally find just the right person.

However, I was giving someone I know a little advice on this, the other day, and here is what I said to him, and I’ll share it with all of you: I don’t know that there is actually a shortage. But to be on the safe side, definitely leave extra room in your project plan.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

The Subtle Differences Between Similar Needs

April 18, 2017

I’m now about knee-deep in my mobile application development tasks. Being somewhat involved now in a couple things, I realized they’re good examples of how two things that sound similar can be so different.

First of all, I’ve had a wide variety of customers, over the years, and would say that working with an end-customer, someone who is doing research and/or making some kind of product, is much different that working with a software vendor who wants me to consult on their system or markets.

One Type of Customer
Right now, with this mobile application development, I worked to select an appropriate platform for my customer, iVention US, and am now creating a model of an application for them. This “model” is meant both to create a talking point about about what we could do and want to do, but also something they could hopefully show a customer to get feedback, as well. It’s also an opportunity for me to learn the platform to the point where I can give a firm overview of it along with a recommendation to them.

In doing this, it occurs to me quite often how different this is than, say, if I were creating a mobile application for an end-customer’s system. Since iVention sells their products to many different customers that could be using all types of tablets or phones, my opinion, which no-one has yet disagreed with, is that it has to run cross-platform. But if I were writing this for a specific customer, they possibly would be standardized on specific equipment and I might just pick something specific to that platform because selecting a platform form and building something that goes cross-platform has been a lot more work than one might imagine.

Yet Other Types of Customers
So, where we hear so much about how easy some of the tools are to use, when we select a “platform” to use for more general development, we can’t always pick the easier tools. But with that, it brings me to Dr. S., of the “HPLC ‘N You” blog. He wants to create a mobile application and needs my advice. With all this in my mind, I directed him straight toward tools that were specific to the device he’s currently using, which seems to be a much more straightforward path than what I’m taking for iVention US. For one thing, the app he’s considering creating probably doesn’t need to be a cross-platform app. So, let’s just make his life a bit easier and recommend a tool that will probably do the job AND be much less burdensome to maintain and use. He’s yet a different type of customer and I gave some thought to his needs as being quite different from those of iVention’s.

In the end, each type of customer, while doing what seems to be the very same things, actually has quite different needs and we as consultants have to have the ability to know where to direct them. That’s what being an expert is about. That’s why “best practices” don’t work – because, in the end, customers have a variety of reasons for having unique needs. “Best practices” are templates for people who don’t know enough about the topic to gather their customers’ true needs.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

Many Congrats on My Work Anniversary – The Irony

April 11, 2017

From leaving my business listed in my LinkedIn profile as current, many kind people have congratulated me for my 21-year anniversary at GeoMetrick Enterprises, last month. It seems a bit sad receiving all these good wishes when I’m no longer really involved with this.

Surprisingly, I still keep involved with all this more than I thought I would. People still contact me to ask for advice, tell me the latest news, and chew the fat a bit (mostly throught e-mail, though, because no-one uses the phone, any more).

It’s a strange feeling being between these two worlds – one where there is all this news and information going on and another where it’s just entirely unrelated to anything I’m doing. The other day, someone asked me whether it really made sense to try to give up my business when I’ve got so much experience and contact with the industry. My answer is this: if what people were calling me for was more related to doing consulting work for them, then keeping the business truly active would have been a good idea.

However, to keep it going so that I can give lots of free advice and chat with people isn’t a cost-effective practice. Now, as usual, I’ll add that I don’t mind giving a little free advice, here and there. I always did feel it kept people feeling relaxed about contacting me and sharing news with me. I don’t begrudge helping people out, now and again. But, as I’ve said, before, when it comes time to actually busy services, they go to the big companies. While the free advice wasn’t meant to be a tit-for-tat situation where I’d specifically receive something back for each bit of advice, when you look at it as a whole and, after getting advice from me, they still end up with a competitor, I was obviously doing something wrong. That’s the bottom line of all this. Unless I figure out what that “wrong” thing was, then there’s no point spending real time on the business.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

UX, and I Don’t Mean the OS

April 6, 2017

Some number of you reading this have, like myself, worked with the UX operating system (one flavor of UNIX). Today, that’s not what I mean. Today, I mean “UX” as “User Experience.”

In a recent post, I talked about how I am DEFINITELY not a designer at Web-Site Updates. This led to some of you responding with your own stories about how you also aren’t designers and ended up being a fun exchange of stories between us. In addition, just yesterday, I was e-mailing with Doug Holbrook of iVention US about the mobile app I’m creating for him and ended up telling him he’ll know it’s from me when he receives it because it’s just THAT hideous!  🙂

All joking aside, if it’s hideous enough that even I know it, even I can fix it up a bit, so don’t worry, plus Doug actually can match colors and will give me some changes, I’m sure.

Now, for the Actual Topic
Back to today’s topic, though, which is UX – User Experience. UX isn’t just about design – it’s about the entire user experience. How many times have users complained because the flow through the system is awkward or because they have to many steps or too many return keys? This is part of the “user experience.” When they don’t understand the controls on the page, that is also part of the user experience. UX experts looks at the entire experience, from the actual design to the flow. Some of the vendors in our industry employ full-time UX experts, others occasionally use UX consultants when they need to and, yet others, don’t bother with this, at all, and maybe we can even figure out which ones these are, in most cases.

As a person who designs these programs, myself, I will tell you all that programmer/designers like me do a great job understanding what the system does and staying within its boundaries. But leaving the entire process up to us isn’t always the best idea. For a COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) implementation, that might be fine, but it probably isn’t a good idea for an entire system build. Anyone working with software should read why in this book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

Come See the Turnkey System in South Detroit

April 1, 2017

Come see the turnkey LIMS/ELN/LES/SDMS system demo in South Detroit. It will take place in the distant future including free champagne and caviar to celebrate its release.

April Fools!

Background: For those of you not from the United States, let me explain that April 1st is April Fool’s Day. We play pranks on each other, tell jokes, and try to lighten things up a little.

Of course, many of you must have guessed this was an April Fool’s joke since there is no such place as South Detroit (despite being included in a Journey song). Now, I know that no-one could have been fooled by the offer to see a “turnkey system” since we all know that there is no such thing.  🙂

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

GeoMetrick Enterprises Receives 2017 Best of Cleveland Award

March 28, 2017

Finally, yet another of the awards GeoMetrick Enterprises was slated to win has come through. Ironically, though, not until after the company has moved from the Cleveland area. Still, an award is an award. Read more, here: GeoMetrick Enterprises Receives 2017 Best of Cleveland Award

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

System Purchase and Implementation Issues

March 24, 2017

When selecting a LIMS, ELN or LES, potential customers look for functionality that matches their needs. Additionally, most companies will have some other criteria, such as the operating system or database they prefer to use. But when systems offer basically the same features and run on the same platforms, there are other technical considerations to review before purchasing one.

Web and Cloud
Products developed specifically for the web and for cloud usage are not the same as those that aren’t. Products might technically run in a web browser or in the cloud but it doesn’t mean they can do so, efficiently. If the product doesn’t have a track record running well in a web browser or if it doesn’t have any (or many) customers using it in the cloud, then don’t plan to use it, that way.

Another issue related to this is that products that specifically run in web browsers tend to best run in a specific one. Features such as the grid fill-down might not work if you don’t use the right browser. So, if you have users that have to run a specific browser and it’s not the one your new system best works with, it’s worth investigating whether this is a good idea. Sometimes, the product just doesn’t properly run at all in the wrong browser, possibly hanging during certain transactions, or not bringing up tabs or information that’s expected. If you have hammered your users into complying with a single browser, ask yourself whether you can now break their habit if you have to force them to sometimes use a different one.

Supporting the Beast
Yes, I mean your system. The big systems could especially be considered beasts. They take enormous amounts of effort to maintain and update. I don’t want to make it sound unmanageable, but it might be, depending on your situation.

One of the big support issues will be the tools you will use for making changes to your system. Many systems truly are just a bunch of buttons and such, where you don’t need to be a programmer to change them. But as you move up the food chain to the “big” systems, that changes. That’s where you need to consider your own internal skills and needs.

There are proprietery tools in some systems. LabWare LIMS/ELN and Thermo Fisher Scientific SampleManager LIMS/LES have these. LabWare has its LIMS Basic and SampleManager has its VGL. These languages are designed to be used to help you program in these systems. They’re extremely powerful. Sales people often insist we call them “scripting” languages so that they sound less scary, but you can make major screw-ups with these if you don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t think for a moment that you don’t need programming skills to make major changes with these languages, that includes an idea what I mean when I say “structured design,” SLC or SDLC (if you have to ask what these mean, you shouldn’t be doing it!).

Thermo Fisher Scientific SampleManager LIMS/LES also allows the use of .NET tools. Now, the ballgame changes because you have public tools that you can program in. While you do have a choice what tool you use, most customers use C#. This doesn’t mean you can go down to the corner and just hire any old C# developer, by the way. LabVantage LIMS is a similar situation, using Java, JavaScript and Groovy for programming/scripting changes. In these two cases, you have layers in these systems that you have to maintain. The StarLIMS product sounds much like the SampleManager product in that it has a proprietary language and some tie to .NET tools, by the way. While I know nothing about StarLIMS, being something of a discussion on the “big” LIMS, I wanted to at least mention it.

The bottom line is that you can’t have your software vendor or consultants do everything for you, forever. It’s just too expensive. At some point, you MUST have at least some skills to make a few changes and to be skilled-enough to do them in a supportable manner. Sometimes, customers will make the statement “well, then, we just won’t ever make these types of changes” and that doesn’t typically last long as it’s a strategy that’s contrary to the purpose of these products, which is to be extremely flexible.

So, if you don’t want to deal with software lifecycles, code vaults and similar issues, that should greatly affect your decision on which system to purchase and how to move forward both in your purchase AND your implementation.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises