Prototypes helps showcase the capabilities of a software even if they are not the final product. They also helping to validate integrations, testing the software in the unique IT environment of the organization since standard integrations often do not work.
In a previous article Focus on proofpoints rather than requirements article, we discussed the concept of proofpoints and how they can be used to assess the capabilities of a software vendor. To make that assessment, we need to experience the software in its intended surroundings, and that is the environment of the user. A prototype is a (partially) configured workable software product, and it is the perfect medium for a software vendor to showcase their capabilities. Prototyping creates a win-win for both vendor and buyer.
To ensure a fit between the new software, the vendor and the organization it is important to assess an actual prototype. You don’t want to buy a car without test driving it first, right? This applies to software as well. The prototype makes the capabilities of the vendor more tangible, compared to sales presentations or online marketing collateral. As discussed in one of our previous articles Getting alignment throughout the software selection process we need to align business, architecture, IT and procurement. A prototype enables representatives from those business areas to evaluate the product together and to create a shared understanding and assessment. Additionally, the prototypes demonstrate whether the vendor has truly understood the business of the organization.
The representatives can provide the vendor with valuable feedback on the level of fit. Furthermore, they will become acquainted with the new software which will support and accelerate the adoption of the software, as it is proofing the fit to the organization.
To ensure a fit between the new software and the organization it is important to bring potential vendors onboard at an early stage in the selection process. If you have a good product, why not show it off in practice? It gives vendors the opportunity to assess the organizations' environment, gather information and prepare a better functioning prototype. Additionally, it gives vendors the opportunity to better set the price.
User experience is important and prototyping provides the medium to have that experience. The prototypes are a showcase of the software’s capabilities, but they are not the final product. Mistakes happen, and prototyping offers the space to make mistakes without upsetting the client. Stick to the core features and showcase your capabilities and understanding of the customer. This interaction with a client is already valuable as the vendor can validate any assumptions directly with the client.
Almost every software implementation project struggles with getting the software to integrate within the IT landscape. As described above, we can use prototyping to let users experience software. Another key benefit of prototyping software is to validate integrations. Here we describe the benefits of validating integrations, even though vendors may promise standard integrations, and how we validate integrations.
We often hear clients saying that “the vendor promised a standardized integration to SAP/Oracle”. The vendor was telling the truth. Software adds value when it can leverage data from other sources. Integrations provide the communication of data between different software. Often vendors can provide standard integrations or Application Programming Interfaces(APIs) towards backend- or other source systems. Unfortunately, most organizations have an IT landscape with lots of customized software packages or complex integration layers. Therefore, these standard integrations often do not work.
For example, sales representatives want to have the current stock values in their new sales application. The stock information must come from the ERP system. The ERP system is customized and contains a different data model than the standard. The integrations need to be adapted to connect to the ERP system. Often organizations have multiple ERP systems, or different integrations layers which can make the example even more complicated.
The integrations need to be adapted during implementation. However, we still want to validate whether the adapted integrations will work.
There are basically two approaches to validating integrations: a demo and an integrated approach. In both approaches you will not validate every integration. You focus on the most important or most complex integrations. This gives insights in the amount of effort necessary to fully integrate the software. During the implementation there is a shared responsibility between the organization and the vendor for getting the integrations up and running.
In this approach we integrate the prototype to the development or test environments of the organization. The business scenarios that are prototyped are being fed by data from the source systems. This requires high investments from the vendor and the organization, but it gives the most detailed insights and proofs if it works or not.
As the integrated approach is often too expensive for most selection projects, we can take the demo approach. In the demo approach the vendor is provided with a dataset. The integrations are prototyped on the vendor’s own test systems but leveraging the dataset from the organization. This validates whether the data model can be integrated by the vendor and how much efforts it would take.
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