Someone recently asked me at a dinner party: ‘So, Norman, tell me what you do in life ?’. I spontaneously replied: ‘I help people read books’. The lady (for it was a she) exclaimed: ‘Oh how absolutely fabulous. You are a teacher’. ‘Err, well, no. I actually work in IT’. ‘Oh I see. You work in training. Why didn’t you just say so ?’ ‘Err, well no. I am a sort of IT consultant’.

Anyway, after an embarassing stony silence, thankfully I managed to steer the conversation to the safer domain of the wide range of choices for secondary school education in our locality. This fascinating subject occupied us right through until the desert and coffee were served.

But the point I was trying to make was that Siebel and Oracle are incredibly large, complicated, wide ranging software products. I have worked with Siebel for three years and Oracle for a little longer but there are still so many areas and modules in both products that I have no practical experience of whatsoever.

I remember once reading Tom Kyte stating that he did not have access to the Oracle source code nor did he did not have a hotline to RDBMS engineering. The basis of his wealth of extensive Oracle knowledge was primarily the documentation set. I remember being hugely impressed by this simple statement. [ Sorry I did look but failed to locate the reference ]

I am a Siebel ‘consultant’ trying to help people use Siebel more effectively. Most of the information needed to help customers use Siebel more effectively is actually contained in the documentation. The only problem is that the ‘documentation’ is simply overwhelming as it includes the manuals, FAQ’s, Alerts, Release Notes, Service Requests etc etc.

I have a couple of advantages: Firstly, I am continually exposed to a wide variety of different Siebel related issues day after day so I so have a degree of experience of real-world problems (and hopefully the resolution).

Secondly, and more importantly, I do have access to a network of highly talented, intelligent individuals with far more experience and intelligence than yours truly. Now this wouldn’t be an advantage unless that group of people were prepared to share their knowledge and I am pleased to say that they are. This isn’t necessarily true at all companies I have worked for.

Normally, I lug my heavy laptop, hanging over my shoulder, attached to my body like a young helpless infant, all around Europe. Today I was in Stockholm and the weather was unusually hot (30’C). To reach the office, I had to take a train and a tube in the morning rush hour. Consequently, I left the laptop behind in the hotel and arrived onsite free from back pain and feeling blissfully liberated.

I told the customer that we would purely be using the public documentation that is freely available to me and him. No hidden cheat-sheets, no private internal emails, no top tips from engineering. He was impressed (I think).

Then, of course, inevitably, we hit a very obtuse, bizarre problem, neither of us had encountered before so it was time to make another call on that network.