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Selection guide

Demos Based on Your Needs

At this stage, most companies go one of two routes for the demo. The first is to attend a "standard" demo that allows the sales person to display the parts of his system that he wants you to see and mask weaknesses by simply not showing them. The problem with this kind of demo is that it does not tell you whether or not the system is capable of actually meeting your precise needs, and if so, how much effort it will take.

The other extreme is to ask vendors for a demo of your complete desired solution. However, most vendors are not going to invest man-weeks in customizing a system to comply with such a request, so unless your requirements are simple, they will insist upon leading you through a standard demo.

Designing and implementing the full set of requirements and maintaining/enhancing the initial installation to reflect experience and address changing needs can easily exceed the cost of the software. Therefore it is critical to find out both how easily the software can be configured and how much help you can expect from the vendor when it comes to process and automation design. So what can you do to learn these things in a demo?

The solution is to twofold:

  1. Give vendors a limited amount of time to prepare a custom demo that illustrates one business process of your choice. Choose the process and requirements that are the most critical and/or unique to your organization. If a vendor can map these process, they will likely be able to manage the more standard ones. Limit the time to prepare the demo to something between one and five days, to see how quickly the product can be tailored to your needs. You may choose extend this deadline, but be aware that if it takes the vendor a week to meet your needs pre-sale, it will probably take at least that long after they have your money.
  2. During the second half of the demo, ask them to modify the system while you watch, to implement some other requirement. Warn them in advance that you will be asking them to configure the system during the demo. That way, they can have technical resources at hand. However, do not give them so much information so as they can prepare everything in advance.

If they fail to meet your requirements during the first half of the demo, you can skip the second half. This may sound tough, but it is completely fair: After all, you will be betting your reputation and, quite possibly, your company's future on making the right choice.

An important benefit of using this process is that you will be able to tell, from the kinds of questions you are asked about your process and requirements, how easy it will be to work with the vendor. Do they exhibit a quick understanding of your needs and grasp what you are trying to accomplish? Do they ask questions that help you to formulate your process more precisely and help make it more efficient? In other words, are they experts at process automation and design? Or are they just going to make a sale and then leave you to your own devices?

During the second part of the demo, assess whether your staff could make such changes themselves. You can also measure the honesty of the vendor. For example, assume your Contract Management RFP asked two vendors how long it would take to create a custom table and one responded "five minutes", but struggled to complete the task in twenty minutes. The second responded "thirty minutes" but finished in twenty five. You might consider the second vendor a more honest potential partner, or you might at least adjust the first vendor's other RFP responses based on their tendency towards optimism.

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