Test Drive Your Next Planning Software Project

31 May 2016 - #cpm #planning #software

By Pietro Ferrari, CTO, BOARD International

Would you purchase a new home without walking through it?  Or a new car without a test drive?  So what I can’t fathom is why so many companies shopping for major planning and forecasting software don’t take the same advance steps before signing contracts to ensure a solid fit between what they want to accomplish and what a vendor can provide.

The process of selecting a performance management system using only traditional user specifications is a high risk endeavor, fraught with dangers of misunderstood terminology, disappointing user experiences of envisioned applications, and unpleasant surprises as to how business rules actually function after deployments, all compounded by the inflexibility of document-based specifications that cannot be easily amended. 

And with traditional specifications, many vendors are exposing themselves as well as they attempt to accurately respond without in-depth understandings of customers’ business and computing environments, particularly when requirements are fluid, as is the case with many performance management applications.

But there is a relatively simple way to mitigate these dangers.  It’s the tried and true Proof of Concept (POC) that surprisingly not enough companies take the time to do before making major software purchases.  A POC is a form of prototyping a trial application – a close approximation to the final deliverable, but without the finishing touches.

A properly executed POC provides good insights into whether a packaged application can cope with the functional requirements of the user organization without having to create a lengthy but rigid paper-based functional specification.  POCs can shave months off traditional methods of application development.  And they usually return much better results.

Successful POCs require both sides to commit to the process.  Suppliers need to commit pre-sales resources and consultants to build the prototype and develop an understanding of the requirements with users.  And end-users need to describe their required process and functional requirements as well as gathering realistic data with which to populate and test the prototype system.

Fundamental to success of a POC is doing it at the end-user’s company site so users can experience the strength of the tool in as realistic an environment as possible.  With proper preparation, BOARD POCs usually only last a few days thanks to the Rapid Application Development advantages built into the BOARD Platform, but other vendors may take as long as a few weeks. 

Ultimately, POC benefits are compelling.  They show end-users what the final application will look like and allow them to experience first hand how they might work with relevant data in their particular settings.  Areas of misunderstanding between vendors and users are easier to identify and resolve.   Users can easily decide where there is a high degree of fit, ease and speed with which the package can be configured, and any additional requirements can be met.

A key ingredient of a POC is that it allows applications to be built, disassembled and rebuilt as new and better ideas evolve.  The ability to develop iteratively without losing integrity of data is a sure sign that a system can respond to change in a real world setting where compliance, information needs and accounting standards are constantly moving targets.

Most importantly, a good POC allows users to dive deeply into the system to view and understand the workings of the platform rather than relying on superficial demonstrations that gloss over the details and merely show the most fancy or appealing parts of the systems.

Perhaps the leading advantage of a POC for performance management is that it sorts the ‘wheat from the chaff.’   It exposes the frailties of loosely coupled performance management suites or point solutions compared with solutions built on unified environments that have a consistent look and feel, a unified database, and strong in-memory computing functionality.

While not always the case, most successful POCs evolve quite easily into the final deliverables end-users sought to begin with.  If properly done, progress in building a prototype and transferring skills can be refreshingly rapid.

So consider the humble but effective POC as you develop short lists of performance management vendors, or vendors of any enterprise software for that matter.  It can make a world of difference to the success of your projects and vendor relationships moving forward.


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