Successful ICT managers know that it is better to be safe than sorry. Successful projects are good for one’s corporate career. Failed projects are not good for one’s career. To avoid failures, many managers insist on a running POC (proof of concept) phase before signing contracts with systems vendors. Seeing is believing even in ICT.
POC is a good practice and can produce a lot of useful information. The most important thing is to know which information really matters and run the POC phase accordingly. Asking wrong questions will not help in avoiding costly mistakes. So, what should one look for in a POC?
There are two main classes of failures:
- projects which are late and over budget
- systems which do not provide any or enough business value
To avoid late or overly costly projects, one must make sure that the vendor knows how to implement the systems. But it is not enough that the vendor knows what to do and how to do it. Without help from the buyer, or ICT, and eventual users, or business, no system can be implemented and deployed successfully. Thus, the POC should prove that the three parties (the vendor, ICT, and business) can work together. The POC is the phase to build up communication channels, project practices and make sure that all parties commit to the project. And in global world, one must make sure that both communication and collaboration work well over cultural boundaries. If communication does not work during POC, it will not work later.
To avoid systems which do not provide enough business value, it is crucial that POC implements a system with measurable changes in business processes. At the end of POC there must be a system, which the business users can use. The users must be able to measure whatever business benefit the new system brings and quantify the benefit in terms of money. Any POC without tangible business benefits available at the end is waste of time and money – and a sure sign that the project would be a failure.
So, the two questions the POC should answer are:
- can we prove the business case?
- can we work together?
where ‘we’ means ICT, vendors and business. If you cannot answer yes to both of them, find another vendor.