What is the mission of the Custom Solutions team that you lead at Bamboo? What kinds of services are offered?
The Solutions Center rounds out Bamboo's total product offering by providing an easy way for our customers to have our commercial products modified to meet their specific requirements. Sometimes, after a trial download of one of our products, a customer may determine that the product meets 80% of their need. Rather than revising their requirements or building something from scratch, that customer can engage our Custom Solutions team to build a custom version of our commercial product that includes the extra functionality necessary to meet their specific needs. Making small modifications to an existing product is a much more valuable proposition than building something from scratch, and Bamboo provides support for the custom version.
Our team also engages with customers to provide custom Web Parts that aren't necessarily based on one of our existing products. Often a customer may call when they don't find what they are looking for in our store. Our team is very adept at discovering requirements, designing solutions, and executing to the plan. Many of our customers are surprised at how quickly we are able to turn around a custom Web Part.
Which existing Bamboo Web Parts generate the most requests for customization?
The Web Parts that generate the most customization requests today are Calendar Plus, IT Productivity Pack, List Bulk Import, and Virtual Map View.
Compared to last year, was there a significant difference in the type of requests you fielded for custom development?
I think SharePoint is becoming more ubiquitous; we see that through the types of requests we receive. We are getting more requests from Business Users, as opposed to IT people. The requests are more for end user applications as opposed to helping the IT guys administer the system. SharePoint is really becoming something "for the people" - more and more business users are learning how to configure it for their specific needs.
Since many of the products in the storefront originated as custom solutions, what percentage of custom solutions result in new Web Part offerings from Bamboo?
Before Bamboo began selling Web Parts via our online store more than three years ago, we built Web-based information management solutions based on SharePoint. Many of our original set of Web Part products came from these solutions, because we found that we were building similar components again and again for different customers. After our store and community went online, our new Web Part offerings have been based primarily on feedback we receive from these sites.
I would say that about 50% of our custom solutions eventually wend their way into our commercial products. Many don't because they are very specific to a particular customer's needs and are therefore difficult to productize. Most conversations our team has, even those that don't result in a custom solution, tend to influence Bamboo's Web Part offerings because they involve real needs from real customers.
Bamboo Nation readers know Jeff Kozloff from his regular blogging and his frequent contributions to the Bamboo forums. As the member of your team with the most visibility in the community area, does Jeff's role on the team differ considerably from that of his teammates?
Jeff is a very valuable member of our team, which is composed of four project managers, all of whom know SharePoint, our products, and typical business processes very well. We spend a good portion of our time discussing potential solutions with our customers. These discussions often result in a ballpark estimate for a potential custom solution. If the ballpark is accepted, the next step for us is to develop a detailed proposal. When the proposal is accepted, we schedule the work and manage the project through delivery to the customer. You can read more about the process here.
Each member of our team has certain specialties and generally handles requests for solutions in that specialty. Jeff's specialties are in our administrative Web Parts: MashPoint, Virtual Map View, and our KB Accelerator. Jeff is also a Microsoft certified Technical Specialist in SharePoint.
In January of this year, Daisy Anand joined your team. What skills and expertise has Daisy added to the team? What areas does she focus on?
Daisy is another very valuable member of our team. Her favorite topics involve solutions for project management, which typically include several of our best selling web parts like Calendar Plus. She is also very knowledgeable in Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
The Custom Solutions team was responsible for the development of the winning product in the Revolution contest earlier this year, right? Did the Revolution experience differ from a typical engagement?
It may sound surprising, but the Revolution experience for us was a typical engagement. The winner was a customer who needed a certain solution and we delivered it like any other solution we get involved in.
You led a "Birds of a Feather" session on the topic of data migration in SharePoint at TechEd this year. Since you were a natural in the conference speaking environment, is that an area you'd like to explore further at future SharePoint shows?
I think SharePoint is a great product for a wide range of applications. I enjoy talking to people and learning how they use it and what successes and pitfalls they've found. It's rewarding to be able to share experiences that may make someone's task easier or possibly more successful. The Birds of a Feather was an informal session where many people talked about their experience trying to get lots of data into their new SharePoint environment. I think many people took away some valuable information from the session - including me.
I look forward to being able to take advantage of opportunities to participate in future SharePoint shows.
With the understanding that this might be akin to asking you to pick a favorite child, what was your favorite project in 2008?
That is a hard question. I think the most interesting was a special Web Part that allowed a certain type of information tagging for enhanced data mining. It was done for a large insurance company and involved a lot of detailed functionality discussions with the customer.
Any notable lessons learned in 2008? What are you looking forward to in 2009?
In 2008 we expanded our team and honed our processes. Bamboo also launched our Partner Advantage Program, so we look forward to opportunities to work closely with our worldwide partners in 2009!
[Editor's note: This Q&A is one part of a multi-part series presenting Bamboo's 2008 year in review. It all kicks off with a candid blog from CEO, Mike Tanner, who presents An Optimistic View for 2009 and Beyond, and continues in the form of conversations with the following Bamboo department heads:
Dec 12 2008, 01:20 PM
John Anderson joined Bamboo Solutions as Manager of Content & Syndication in May of 2008 after a 12-year career at AOL. New to SharePoint at the time of his hiring, John was tasked with creating a new blog for the just-launched Bamboo Nation community in which he would document his daily SharePoint learning process. Thus was born the end user-centric SharePoint Blank, for which John authored 200 posts within a year, and which he continues to write today (albeit much more sporadically). Currently serving as Managing Editor, John sets the tone for Bamboo Nation as its lead blogger, and oversees content across Bamboo properties.