If you are in the market to purchase a new critical software tool, such as a mass notification system, situational alert system, BCM plan repository… and have determined the finalists please do an in-house pilot!

You MUST ‘kick the tires’ and play with all facets of the system BEFORE signing on the dotted line!

A pilot is a free trial of the software you intend to roll out to your organization. If the vendor insists on a small fee to do a ‘proof of concept’ it may be acceptable.

I have purchased many enterprise systems and I have written and sold enterprise software solutions to some of the largest companies, educational institutions and governments in the world. I have a perspective from both sides of the fence:

Tip – Even if you have done a thorough product/vendor feature, benefit, cost analysis and you have attended the ‘dog-and-pony’ demo by sales and pre-sales engineers and seemingly received the answers you were looking for in your request for proposal (RFP) – it is simply not enough. That is the starting point. Now is the time to do the pilot!

Tip – You must also stress-test the system. Trust me, poorly designed systems can behave VERY differently with 200 records than with 20,000 or 200,000 records. The last thing you need is a system that was snappy and peppy when the vendor demo’ed it but in production it turned into a slooooow dog. Users will not tolerate latency; ‘this ain’t the 1990’s World Wide Wait’. You do not need that aggravation.

Tip – A pilot is the ONLY way you can truly be sure the system is right for you! I really want you to do this for your own sake and that of your company.

Tip – During a pilot you will see the imperfections that the salespeople conveniently forgot to mention during the dog-and-pony demo. Be especially careful when it is near the end of the quarter and the sales person puts on the hard-sell to make his/her quota or bonus. Think before biting on their pitch.

Tip – Ask your IT team to attend any of the technical meetings with the vendor. They will see and hear red flags that you might not. Get their blessing on the technical aspects of the system before signing the contract.

Tip – I suggest you have a few users on different levels of technical comfort/discomfort try out the new system. Don’t only have power users. Have ‘newbies’ as well. They will give you great feedback, both good and bad. Speak with them and survey them:

  • Do they like the user experience (UX) and – interface (UI)?
  • Do they like the canned reports?
  • Is the system overly complex?
  • Is it slow?

Then buy them lunch or give them a cool t-shirt for testing the system.

Any quality vendor will be happy to help you do a pilot or free trial. They want to insure you are getting what you expect. Otherwise, it will bad for you and bad them down the road. It will not end well if you are both not on the same page. Please accept my advice on this one.

Tip for Vendors – As a buyer I feel good when a vendor strongly advises I do a pilot. It shows me your product will speak for itself. Words are cheap – ‘the proof is in the pudding.’

The Bottom Line – Do a pilot EVERY TIME you are considering a new system. You will save yourself time, money and lots of frustration. Yes, I would be happy if you send me a thank you if this saves you from aggravation in the future.

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