As part of the evaluation process, you should have had a demonstration of the product and have a pretty good understanding of what it can do, what it can’t do and what problems it will solve. The next step is the proof of concept or POC.
First, the POC should be conducted in your environment. Accept nothing less. By bringing the vendor’s product in-house, you are ensuring that it will work as promoted. It’s the same as test driving a car—drive it in your environment.
There are two goals in any proof of concept. First, the IT vendor wants you, the customer, to become educated or familiar with the product. Second, you want to be assured the product can deliver what has been promised, the product meets expectations, the support is better than you expected, and the product will meet your operational guidelines.
You and the IT vendor should work together to define expectations. The IT vendor should clearly outline the process and how they plan to address your unique challenges. The IT vendor should be open and honest about what challenges can be met and conversely, which challenges cannot. Straight talk. The latter may be the most important part of this exchange as this is where the foundation of trust begins.
Your IT vendor should set realistic expectations. You don’t want a relationship with a vendor that over sells or makes wild promises that can never come to fruition. Some vendors feel like they can never say no to a customer. This will set the tone for the relationship making the vendor reactionary, almost desperate, and rarely creates a foundation for a lasting partnership. Instead, you and the vendor should work together to get the most out of the POC. By working together as a team, you will create a strong relationship that isn’t based on the sale, but rather the solution. This is important as it will fuel your relationship moving forward.
Build a dedicated lab environment for your testing. It doesn’t have to be a full blown lab – a scaled down environment will do well. The point is that it needs to perform in a similar way to the production environment. Work with your vendor so you don’t overlook anything when building the lab.
Ask questions. Document everything—the building of the lab, how it was configured. Include the steps of installation, results of tests that were performed and final findings and recommendations. Complete any checklists you may have to ensure you have not forgotten anything. If the person who built the lab is the winner of the next Lottery, you may not have that person around long to replicate this work. Well-written documentation will also ensure that other teams within the organization understand the POC steps and why decisions were made.
There are no shortcuts to a successful POC. And there is no such thing as a quick POC. The more rushed, the more likely it is to fail—and this is a huge investment of time and labor for both you and the vendor. Success is determined by the inputs and interaction from you and the vendor. In the end, you should be able to establish a strong relationship where you and the vendor have become partners, both achieved success and ultimately, you are recognized as the hero in your organization for making it all come together.