Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A PoC that went downhill

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Last week, I received the sad news that the social software PoC (Proof-of-Concept) at a customer in the West coast has failed. For all vendors involved!!
I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed, but not surprised. Tried as we might, the customer didn't want to follow our recommended practices. Reasons for the PoC to fail became clearer as I read the explanation from the customer. Let me give you some background first.
Now, I wasn't heavily involved in the PoC, but assisted on an as-needed basis. My teammates on site kept me on the loop as needed. The PoC was led by the organization's IT department. There was a sponsor from the business side, but it seemed, in my opinion, that their feedback was not considered at any time.
There were 4 vendors participating in the pilot and all systems were deployed as-is and "thrown" at over 200 users. The users were given no instruction on how to use the system. They were simply given a URL and a survey with over 20 questions: "Did you like this? Did you like that?, etc". Is there any surprise all vendors failed in this scenario? Not at all.
Looking at the 10 Principles for Social Software Adoption, I don't see that this company followed them. One of the users' complaints was that the system didn't provide valuable information. I don't think that's a surprise given the system wasn't properly populated with data. Think about it... if you go to a social site and it's empty.. Would you like it? I remember when I first joined Facebook I was loner and didn't really use it since my friends were not there. For the longest time, I only had 10-20 friends . Even my wife, who's a graduate from MIT didn't find it cool for a while! But as more people joined, I was hooked!
Additionally, the customer was considering and making the 4 vendors compete in their best of breed areas.. i.e. profiles vs blogs vs communities vs social bookmarking etc. They even tried integrating all of them to provide a "better" user experience, but the user experience was the biggest complaint from end-users.
So let me throw out some recommended practices for a social software PoC (Mike Stopforth blogged about this earlier too):
  1. Identify business goals - In order to measure the success of a PoC, there needs to be a goal to be met. Define it (e.g. improve communication with blogs)
  2. Choose your audience - Needs to be people who need to share knowledge (e.g. R&D, development, etc)
  3. Choose your evangelizers - These will be your salesmen. They already exist in your enterprise. Who do people go to most often for answers? That's who you need. Or you can use Atlas for Lotus Connections to find out. Have them start populating the system.
  4. Conduct a pre-assessment - Ask your audience how they accomplish, today, their day to day tasks such as finding people, finding collateral, keeping up with topics, etc.
  5. Get input from evangelizers - Based on the enterprise's culture what should be deployed first? How should it be deployed?
  6. Train your evangelizers - so they can train others...
  7. Conduct a post assesment - After a reasonable length of time, figure out what worked and what didn't, fix it and keep going.
  8. Integrate with other tools - Is your enterprise mobile? Deploy the BlackBerry plugin. Do they mostly live in a portal? Deploy the Connections portlet. Make sure that employees can access Lotus Connections from where they work! Hey, it's all free, so you might as well!!
And there you have it. If you follow those tips and hints, you'll be on your way to a successful PoC. Need more ? Contact me and I'll be glad to help your organization through it.
How about you? Have you had any successes / failures deploying social software? Any that you want to share with us?
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