Courses are built and published every day, but what happens to
their source codes?
Does the following scenario sound familiar?
XYZ Corporation has had a web-based training course for a number of
years that focuses on how to support a key application used by many
employees of the company. The responsibility for maintaining and
managing this course has changed hands a number of times over the
years with no issues simply because it has never needed an update.
However, after a new version of the software application is
released, how to use new features need to be incorporated into the
Once developers review the course files, they realize that they
only have the published output. The course was written in an
application that they do not have, and they are unsure which vendor
was involved in the creation of the original course. Also, the
employees involved in the original course development are no longer
with the company.
After much research, the new training managers are able to identify
the vendor who created the course. After many calls, XYZ learns
that the server storing that particular course was recently moved
and it will take some time to retrieve the files.
Happy ending (or as happy as it can get): the original source files
were found, but XYZ Corporation must hire a different vendor to
convert the source code into a new format because no one has the
software the course used in the originally development. In the end,
the course was updated, but the cost was high and it took longer
What Are Source Files?
Source files consist of the bits and pieces that make up a course.
This includes the educational and tracking materials, as well as
the graphics, animation, audio files, video clips, and so forth,
When dealing with graphics and animations, you will typically have
two different files for each graphic/animation: 1) the file format
that the graphic/animation was saved as during creation and 2) the
final version that was incorporated into your course files. For
example, the working file in Photoshop is saved as a.psd file that
can only be read by Photoshop, but the output file can be in
multiple different formats such as a.jpg,.gif,.png, and so on.
When an output file needs to be updated, you must have the original.psd file in order to correctly edit it.
All applications have some type of proprietary file extension that
is used during the creation of the output product, it's important
to know what these files are and how to manage them as part of your
overall strategy for maintaining your source files.
Why Worry about Source Files?
Without the source files, you could very well discover that you
have to recreate every course the next time you need to update
them. This will not only increase the cost, but also the time
required for the update. With the source files on hand, you will
only need to edit the elements of the course that need updating -
greatly reducing your cost and time.
Here's a review of issues that can have an impact your source code,
as well as some strategies for creating a sound management plan.
What activities can affect source files?
- companies change hands
- employees leave
- projects end prematurely
- projects get inherited from different groups/people
- development software evolves
Who needs to be involved when creating your strategy?
- course owners
What needs to be archived?
- list of people involved in the project, including subject
- meeting notes where agreements and decisions were made
- written audio scripts
- original course source files
- images (for example, both source Photoshop images and final
- animations (source files and production)
- anything else associated with the final production of the
Here are some questions to ask that may affect your final
- Onsite storage: What is your storage strategy: network
shares, local computer drive, CD/DVD, vendor(s), portable hard
drives, and so forth? Can IT provide network space? Is there a fee
associated with storage? Who will have access to archives? How do
you access archives? Is security an issue?
- IT support: What sort of internal IT support do you have?
Are they willing to help with storage and maintenance?
- Vendor archiving: Does the vendor offer archiving
services? How long does or will the vendor maintain the archive?
What is the cost for vendor archiving? What are the billing cycles?
Does cost go up as archive increases? Is there a retrieval or
transfer charge? Will they send files to a different vendor if you
choose to use one? How do you access archives? What if the vendor
goes out of business or is purchased what happens to your content?
- Disaster recovery: Is there a disaster recovery plan? Who
on the team is aware of a disaster recovery plan?
- Naming conventions: How will you identify the course
content? By category (business process, application, HR)? By
application used or process? By date (day/month/Year) in filename?
- Software issues: Do you have licenses software used to
create the course? Did you archive a copy of the software that was
used to create certain courses if and when you move onto a
different development product?
Finally you need to determine if your strategy will require
budgetary support. There may be set up charges or ongoing
maintenance charges to consider.
Benefits to Having Your Source Code
The obvious benefit of having your source code under your control
is that you can more easily manage updates and conduct maintenance
on courses as required. This reduces both cost and downtime for
Managing your own source code provides other benefits that you may
not immediately recognize. For instance, as your library of courses
grows, so does the number of images used within those courses.
These images can be reused in other courses further reducing costs
and time requirements. Additionally, elements in courses may also
prove reusable with other courses or as online help files and
In the end, positive control of your source code provides the
greatest security for your content, as well as the flexibility to
manage it to meet the ever changing needs of your business.
M. Shawn Stiles is with worldwide safety and
regulatory operations for Pfizer. Contact him at Michael.Shawn.Stiles@Pfizer.com.