The InfoGov Proof of Concept and what I learned from the culinary world that (still) applies

by in Information Management & Governance

The Micro Focus Archiving team will be writing a series of blogs called “Better Safe than Sorry.” In this installment, my co-author, Chris Waterous, writes about when he was a chef, prior to becoming a Systems Engineer. 

*Note:  Chris and I have worked together at three different archiving vendors.  Most times, I was on the sales calls early in the deal and later, he came in and installed the POC software.  Here’s his take on the Proof of Concept (POC) and how it is related to the culinary world:

The InfoGov Proof of Concept.pngAs a Culinary Institute of America trained professional, people always ask me how I transitioned from an accomplished chef to a software sales engineer, architecting the complex technical requirements in the Archiving & Information Governance (IG) sector. After more than 15 years and several hundred proof of concept (POC) sales cycles, with the largest institutions in business today, I found that there were many similarities when preparing a POC environment. 

The main difference between a farm to table culinary experience vs. the technical proof of concept endeavour, is that the restaurant diners are never exposed to the many hours of preparation, along with the intense noise, heat and violence of a kitchen hot line.  Contrarily, the IT directors, administrators and stakeholders shopping for an IG solution were not much different than the restaurant owners, waiters, butchers and line cooks etc., orchestrating the process of combining many ingredients, which they would put to the taste test.

The rule of thumb was to: promote delicately (with confidence), set expectations and get buy-in on the experience, anticipate the diner’s needs, over deliver with service and presentation and make the customer feel empowered so they will return.  

Now that I no longer am a full-time chef, the irony is, these same 5 tenants are still very much my end goal in the POC process.

It’s important to step back to mid-2000’s when e-communication and file systems were growing faster than their ability to manage, data volume, access processes and the risk associated with accumulating across unsupervised environments. Archive evaluations or POC’s were perceivably synonymous with a new type of backup. As a result, much time was spent educating what an Archive was and wasn’t. Channels of communications were typically limited to email servers, file share and in later years, SharePoint and 3rd party integration to other unstructured data types. The archive space saw e-Discovery and Compliance added to the archive, which essentially extended the built-in search capabilities and added permissions, an audit trail, workflow and export capabilities for legal counsel, regulators or data requests. 

My advice to anyone approaching a POC (on both ends – ISV and prospective buyer), is to utilize the 5 tenents/ rule of thumb used in the best restaurants.

1. Promote delicately (with confidence)

Every good waiter, can promote and tell a story about the chef’s specials. Most food critics unilaterally always recommend, when visiting a restaurant for the first time, the Chef Specials are usually a hit. Whether the Account Executive is selling to a new prospective customer or repeat buyer, the key is to promote the software’s capabilities by mapping the product features, to meet the customer’s needs and eventually solve a problem(s). Internally, the prospective customer needs to do due diligence, on whatever solution being evaluated and promote within the four walls without fanfare, but with confidence that the POC criteria will quickly uncover the products strengths and weaknesses.

2. Set expectations and get buy-in on the experience

Diners are always intrigued by Daily Chef Specials and often have difficulty choosing between two. Often one diner will try Special A and the other Special B, with the idea they’ll share two unique culinary adventures in one sitting. Both diners have “bought in” on the experience and the expectation is set. Within the IT buying cycle it is critical to define the success criteria, execute a pilot in a do-able time frame, and have the IT environment ready (account permissions, SQL farms, AD schema, sample data, account profiles, storage, etc.) before I arrived on site. So critical to this process, my first company developed a POC readiness tool, which ran a series of scripts and generated a report to determine if the IT servers and environment was ready for POC. Each customer would email the readiness report to me, before I’d set foot on a plane.

3. Anticipate the diner’s needs

A good chef always has synergy with a sommelier to ensure the wine list and liquors complement the meals on the menu, as well as the specials. Many restaurants have moved away from attempting to stock every popular brand of wine and liquor, instead opting to rely on a sommelier or mixologist’s hybrid of hand-picked, boutique wines and liquors that have synergy with the unique meals on the menu.

The success criteria for the POC is clearly married to the outcomes any prospective customer seeks in testing an IG solution. More than often, the stakeholders are a hybrid of IT, a project manager, specific lines of business and sometimes Legal or a Compliance officer. Each team has an entirely different understanding of what success looks like. A Compliance officer may not care that the indexes/indices grow to 3x the size of the stored data. It may not concern an email admin that the search tools cannot do stemming or lemmatization, thus forcing an end-user to run multiple searches to achieve a single outcome. Reviewers will typically need speed (a la’ hotkeys and fast scrolling) and efficiency for tagging massive, daily review queues.  Anticipation of what the customer needs are and how the solution will be used regularly are critical to any pilot. 

4. Over deliver with service and presentation

In the 90’s and 2000’s, the rage in franchise family restaurants (e.g. Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, T.G.I. Fridays, etc.) sizzling dishes like fajitas and steaks from the kitchen were the ultimate promotional tool. An old sales technique was always to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Benihana’s food preparation is part entertainment, as much as it is a dining experience by flipping shrimp into a diner’s mouth from across the room. More upscale Mexican restaurants would make guacamole in person at the table, indicating the freshness of the ingredients, as well as the diner feeling they are a part of the food preparation – hence, trusting in the meal elicits a positive response.

Here is where Step 1, has the opportunity to shine, by prior “promoting” the product’s features, particularly when this feature has solved the customer’s pain points during the POC. For example, a prospective customer who’s previous solution had slow ingestion rates, now can see that the solution has both ingested, indexed and been backed up in a matter of a few hours, where previously proved to be a nightly process or was allocated to run on weekends. Lightning fast search speeds where million of documents were searched and results given within sub-second speeds. gains credibility with any client. The presentation and reporting capabilities that speak to performance metrics, the health check of the system, search recommendations to the end user, ALL make for solid service offering and impressive results.

5. Make the customer feel empowered, so they will return

The true proof of a successful restaurant experience is the diner who will both, speak well to friends and associates (or even submit a positive review) and will return to dine again.  Repeat patrons look to replicate the positive experience and the hybrid of accoutrements, service, food, and their needs met. A successful dining experience and restaurant will succeed from not just a top chef in house, but good management, wait & bar staff, well prepared meals and good execution. Repeat business is the ultimate validation.

For prospective buyers of software and solutions, the charge is to work in synergy with the ISV to create a POC with use cases that will make the person who makes final selection, “the hero who solved a business problem and added value.” Like a restaurant diner, there is the need for validation by saying after the meal, “I made the right choice.”

In closing, POC’s have changed over the years and customer success criteria has become more complex. Archive and IG solutions now are tasked to do far more by ingesting more channels like social media, mobile SMS texting, structured data and search and now includes AI w/ machine learning and analytics. Yet, the same tenants for evaluating any product through a Proof of Concept pilot remain the same. Provide a “farm to table” POC experience with time and attention spent understanding the detailed specifics of a requirement and how that affects others is the responsible and sustainable way for a customer to make a sound investment and return for another enlightening experience. Bon Appétit!

Better Safe than Sorry.png

Thanks for joining us for the first episode of Better Safe than Sorry.
Check back for more installments or view all our Archiving blog posts.