Unconventional business practices thrust into the public eye!

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Clearwater, Florida, USA —When the MicroStation Today editor asked me for an article about the latest release of Microsoft Office Importer, I was a little surprised because this release isn’t the type that usually makes headlines.

I told the editor — his name is Wil — that this would have to be more about unconventional business practices and why I love my job than about any single new Microsoft Office Importer feature or refinement. With a quizzical look, he told me “Go for it, just don’t miss the deadline.” Well, okay. [Editor’s note: He missed the deadline.]

Having the best software products in our field affords opportunities unavailable to most companies. Most software companies are under constant fire from competitors. These competing groups spend a lot of time keeping up with each other. For example: Microsoft Windows has Apple’s OS X, Intuit’s Quicken has Microsoft Money and Bentley has Autodesk. Breaking from the software theme, television news shows have each other, for better or worse. And the entire auto industry has, believe it or not, Toyota, the quiet juggernaut of efficiency. Toyota knows how to listen to the little guy on the factory floor and constantly improve their car creation process. They’re going to be around for a long time producing ever more reliable cars because they listen to the man on the production line and constantly improve their operations based on that feedback.

For Axiom, having little to no competition for most of our products is the result of almost two decades of Toyota-like quiet innovation, constantly listening to customers, consolidating gains and doing what worked before, over and over again. This has put us in a position where we don’t have to spend time implementing minimally useful features added by our competition just to look good on a feature comparison chart. Instead, we can spend our time really finding out what our customers need and giving it to them. Because, believe me, predicting and fulfilling the needs of the MicroStation community is a full-time affair with no end in sight.

As a product manager, this hard-earned market position means I get to do things that really matter, often even things that matter to just single users. I love what I do and it’s great to be able to practice my craft someplace where there is so much contact with end users. It’s like working for a startup company but without all the stress. I like waking up to go to work.

Anyway, a little bit about this project. As you probably know, Microsoft Office Importer is a tool used by innumerable MicroStation professionals to bring Excel and Word data into MicroStation with amazing formatting and control, maintaining a link to the source document for automatic future updating when the source document changes.

We have our eyes on a lot of exciting, major new Importer features for the future. But this project was about the little things, like adding enhancements here and there that make the importing experience better for users.

There was the fella in Fargo that had a problem when his paths contained an exclamation point. He was a very nice guy, by the way, but we would have fixed this even if he wasn’t.

Then there were some non-English-language users who had trouble importing charts from Excel, a feature we recently added. Fixed. And while we were in there we ensured it would be fixed for every language we could think of.

Then we figured out how to scale imported chart data even better than we’d done when we originally added chart support. We figured out how to take one step out of it for the user. No one had asked for it, but we knew we had to make it as good as it could possibly be and that users would benefit from the improvement, whether they noticed it or not. With the knowledge that it could be better came the responsibility to make it better. Microsoft Office Importer’s chart scaling is now as awesome as its chart formatting and we learned some things along the way.

There were a lot more little fixes like these in the project, usually for one or two customers that ran into a problem. But we didn’t discriminate, we fixed things for big companies, too. We feel an obligation to do our best regardless of how many seats of software it will sell. If we’re going to do something, we want to do the best job we possibly can. That’s the secret to our success. Rounding out the project, after we’d made our fixes and improved the existing features, we threw in a new feature: Support for Excel’s diagonal border lines.

I want customers who can’t help but rave about the tools I provide. I’m serious about using the best possible software myself. When I find something that’s a cut above the rest, I can’t shut up about it. I tell my friends, my colleagues and I even try to tell my wife. She just sort of pats me on the head kindly with her eyes. That’s our goal — users who can’t shut up about how much time they save with Axiom’s tools and how easy they are to use.

If there’s any way you can see to improve Microsoft Office Importer, please drop me a line.

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