Does a Proof of Concept (POC) really prove anything?

straight-to-pilot-diagram

It is common practice for enterprises to engage in lengthy and expensive POCs to test vendor products and technologies before making a purchase. This old and archaic method of evaluating products does little but waste precious time and energy. POCs are usually executed in a lab or test environments that are pristine and rarely ever mimic the chaos and complexities that exist in a real production environment. Most vendor products usually end up performing very well in POCs that are conducted in a lab or a test environment.

Should one really make a major technical decision based on simple tests that have been run in a lab?

A POC in a lab or test environment is only proving what the vendor has claimed all along. That their products work. The real questions that beg to be asked are:

  • “Do their products work in complex production environments?”
  • “Do they have the ability to scale from small to very large deployments?”
  • “Can they withstand the rigors of ever changing IT environments?”

Rather than spend wasteful cycles in inconclusive POCs, consider a small pilot deployment in a production environment. If the vendor solution is proven, well tested and backed by successful deployments, they will have no objections to a pilot. If you sense hesitation on their part to deploy their solution straight into a production environment, then you know that they are not certain about their own product capabilities.

Answers to the questions below will help you decide whether a POC is worth your time and effort:

  1. Are you extremely risk averse and usually not leading the industry when adopting cutting-edge technologies?
  2. Can you afford to spend time in lengthy POCs and evaluations with no firm dates by when a decision needs to be made?
  3. Will you be able to replicate every single aspect of your production environment in your lab?
  4. Is time to market not a major concern for your organization?
  5. Do you have extra resources and time available to work on POCs?
  6. Is the vendor developing technology specifically for you?
  7. Is the vendor fairly new and not well established?

If you answer Yes to more than five of the questions above, then a traditional POC is the best option for you, otherwise you are ready for a pilot deployment.

A pilot deployment in production not only helps you test the product rigorously, but also gives you a head-start on your project. If the pilot is successful you can just continue with deployment to the rest of the enterprise. Established vendors who are confident in their technologies (with proven deployments elsewhere) will give you the option to walk away from the contract in the unlikely event that the pilot is not successful.

Once you have done your basic due diligence on the vendor and are ready to move forward, structure the contract such that you begin with a pilot and have the option to exit if the product does not meet your requirements.

Gone are the days when one could spend endless cycles evaluating new technologies. Today organizations that are quick to respond to business needs, are innovative and leverage technologies that help them stay ahead of competition are the ones who will win.

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