It's Not Perfect, But It's Proof

Proofs of concept still rule when it comes to vendor selection

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Joanna Wright

It's hard to pick a software partner. There is a lot of opinion and marketing out there. If IT professionals want to find the best fit for their systems, proving concepts in-house is still the only way to start separating opinion from fact

Vendor selection is a bewildering process.

You know to take vendor marketing material with more than a pinch of salt. You know the excellent think-piece you have just read on this data management problem or that confusing regulation was produced by one of these vendors, who might have the best and most altruistic of intentions in writing it, but ultimately also has skin in the game.

You know that this service provider may genuinely believe their own marketing, may even be best of breed, but you still don't know if their product is right for your business requirements.

You know that all businesses are unique and have unique needs and you know that the only way of really making certain a product or solution or service is right for you is to run a proof of concept (PoC).

But you can't get to that stage without a lot of work defining your requirements and trying to understand who or what best suits those; and PoCs in themselves are time-consuming and not always indicative of how well the product will integrate with your systems. Also, once you've gone that far, you're in the grip of vendor sales teams who seem to know something you don't and are masters in the art of persuasion.

So you turn to analysts and consultants like Gartner, whose Magic Quadrant has been generally highly regarded for years as a source of independent, well-researched evaluations of vendor offerings. But you also know that the Magic Quadrant is considered by some to be increasingly outdated; and you know that others have sued Gartner over what they have claimed is its "pay-to-play" model, allegedly choosing vendors who spend money with them on their consulting services to land a coveted place in that top-right corner. Were these just sour grapes from vendors who didn't make it, or do they have a point? It's hard to tell, and everything seems to be marketing and obfuscation and jargon.

And perhaps you yourself know that it is easier sometimes to just go with what Gartner says is good, because if it fails you can say, "Wasn't me, I bought from the top-right corner so I thought I was getting the best." But this is box-ticking and covering your back; it's not really making your life easier in the end, or helping your organization. 

No-one really knows what is best for you but you, though it helps to take on other opinions. And I think it is important to remember that, as Gartner itself has said, the Magic Quadrant is not advertising—it is an opinion. It may be not be perfect, but the only way to know if a vendor is a good fit is good old-fashioned PoC. 

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