From Public to Proprietary

The ties that bind you when you are working within a Proprietary environment present challenges both to your organization and to your own career management strategy.

Several weeks ago, I sat down for a meeting with the Chief Technology Officer and Head of Research & Development at my company. They wanted our department to produce a short video that could be used to explain the benefits of a recent system enhancement we rolled out. Since our department is the home of the Adobe Captivate Experts, they approached us for further conversation around their idea.

Over the course of the relatively short meeting, it quickly became apparent that we could produce the kind of video they wanted to see. We chatted about some of the key features we thought the video should include, I asked for more information on the current use of the enhancement we were profiling so that we could measure the effectiveness of the video after launch, and we were off. But something else became apparent as I raised questions about the formats and platforms the video should be made available for: the ties that bind you when you are working to market a proprietary system.

Phone with YouTubeShould the video be made available via YouTube, I asked? How about via our website? If so, how could it be done to not violate the proprietary nature of the system and not introduce unnecessary risk to the company and the sales process? Other than Legal and our Internal Audit department, are there any other stakeholders that needed to be consulted? Should Senior Management and Sales be involved? Because I am a systemic thinker by nature, these are the kinds of questions and observations you get from me when you ask me to create a short promotional video. Luckily this tendency of mine is also the exact reason why I am the person in our department who tends to get approached about working on new projects.

It quickly became apparent that, just like with any project, planning is the most important part of the process. We left the meeting with a list of items to research, and we will reconvene when we have some answers. Luckily our project deadline is fairly open-ended at this point as we are approaching the busy part of our year; between conference preparations, process audits, several overlapping client conversion projects and a GUI refresh project requiring us to completely re-capture and refresh our e-learning content, we have a busy late summer and fall season ahead of us.


I often contrast the kinds of constraints that bind you when you are working with a proprietary system with my previous career, which was in the Non-Profit sector.  Because we were a Non-Profit and also received a not-insignificant amount of funding from local government coffers, everything that we did was public by necessity. Our budget was public. My salary as the Executive Director was public. Our Board Meetings and Minutes were public. Any and all projects I was working on were public as well.

Operating with this kind of transparency definitely creates some challenges. Because everything is open to the public, the public often feels entitled to a say in the process, and as the Executive Director I was the one who had to tell them No. No, we cannot withdraw thousands of dollars from our endowment to host a Civil War Reenactment, because it does not fit within our mission as an organization, it would violate our fiduciary responsibilities in the management of the endowed funds, expose the museum to financial risk, and no battles or significant activity occurred within the county during the Civil War. When you are faced with telling some of your most prominent supporters that you will not be rolling over and doing exactly what they want you to do, you quickly develop two traits: Strong negotiation and facilitation skills to help keep them happy, and a really thick skin.

But from a marketing and promotional standpoint, this kind of transparency also offers a lot of benefits. It is easy to trumpet what you are doing and build excitement for new projects and new offerings. When I was working with the Kansas Humanities Council, The Smithsonian Institution and loads of other museums and state-wide organizations to bring The Way We Worked to our museum, the transparency we operated under was a huge marketing boon. We could invite the public in as we were installing companion exhibitions. We generated posts on social media and in local media outlets at every stage of the process. I was even featured in a video profile for a Wichita-based TV station as we installed the traveling exhibition, thanks to the efforts of the county economic development council. It was a great way to create buy-in and excitement for the project stakeholders and the general public, and it was a smashing success.

Operating within the world of Proprietary Software is very different. It is true that you get more freedom in the planning and design of a product or enhancement because the process is not transparent to the public or most of the end-users. To a certain extent, you can develop things the way that makes the most sense to you and your existing resources and workflows. It makes the planning and executing stages much easier to manage, because you have a smaller pool of stakeholders.

KnotBut it also ties your hands when it comes to marketing and promotion of your final product. You have to ask the questions like whether the video would be made publicly available, how that would happen and what level of risk the company is willing to accept with that. For example, if this video goes on YouTube, can it even show any of the Core Software Program anywhere in it? Creating marketing-type video content for something you cannot show is a next-level type of challenge.

I have run into this challenge before from a career-management perspective. I can put on my resume that I create and manage hundreds of hours of e-learning content. But when I am asked to show some, I have to explain that I cannot because the content is proprietary. I can tell people that I conduct thorough Operational Audits, but cannot provide samples for the same reasons. I could ask for LinkedIn Recommendations from the customers I work with, but many of them don’t use LinkedIn and for those that do there are still questions revolving around the proprietary nature of our client list. Heck, I can even list the projects I work on and develop with my team on my LinkedIn Profile, but I cannot add my teammates to the project for proof because none of them have LinkedIn accounts.

The end result is that you either wind up looking like someone who can promise better than they can deliver, or you have to get really creative in demonstrating your skills in other ways. This requires a lot of your free time, as you re-invent the wheel to demonstrate that you can do what you say you can do. I envy my days in the Non-Profit world, where the results of my work were public and I could easily share them without having to re-create them from scratch. But working on these challenges around proprietary products, like the new feature video, sharpens a whole new set of skills and for that I am grateful.



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