There’s Nothing Wrong with a Paid Pilot – As Long as it’s a Real Pilot

Over on Spend Matters, the analyst team has been posting their thoughts on the market outlook for the next three years (instead of making pointless predictions like their peers, and we all know what the doctor thinks of predictions, which was reiterated in this post), and most of them are logical and expected. However, one in particular needs to be addressed, and repeated. And that’s the fifth of the prophet‘s predictions in his E-Procurement Market Outlook. In particular, the prophet‘s prediction that

Paid Pilots [will] Become More Frequent

There are two types of pilots. The kind where a provider takes data from a past event or project, runs it through their system, and provides you with a report of what they would have done and the results they would have achieved and you compare it to the results you achieved to see if it’s worth considering the system in depth.

Then there is the type of pilot where you try out the system on a live event or real data, replace your current system with the new system temporarily, or deploy the system for a specific project or division to compare operation and results side-by-side with the live system.

Before an organization invests a large amount of money or a large amount of effort to switch to a new system, and after it runs an initial pilot on historical data to determine that a full pilot is worth it, this is a great idea as the organization should be sure that the system will work as intended before it implements the system to support critical functions, but the pilot will only be effective if both parties take it seriously and make their best effort to get the best, and most realistic, results.

Even if the platform is a true SaaS solution that runs on the cloud where the provider can instantiate a new instance simply by clicking a button that creates a new, default, private instance and can make it available by simply creating a user name and password, configuring it for your use will take a lot of effort on the part of both parties. Even if everything in the Admin section and MDM control panel can be 100% user driven, until you have sufficient training and experience with the platform, you’re not going to be able to hook it into your ERP and existing supply chain / Sourcing / Procurement platforms, configure the workflow, create the secure user hierarchy, and complete other configuration tasks. Moreover, you’re not going to know the unique features, the features that can generate the most value, or the best practices. For best results, the supplier has to be actively engaged.

And in the business world, clients come first. If you’re not a client, while the sales and account teams will do their best to make you successful, they have paid clients to support. If those clients need help, they come first. Plus, at any time, they have other organizations they are trying to sell, as any sales person or account manager that doesn’t spread the risk across multiple potential client organizations is not a sales person or account manager that is going to keep their job very long.

However, if you pay for the pilot, the provider’s costs, and risks are covered and the provider can dedicate the resources that you need to get the most that can be obtained from the platform. If every pilot is paid, the provider can hire more resources that can be dedicated to pilot success.

In other words, if success is desired, then the organization should pay for a pilot – as long as it’s a real pilot to support a real project (and not a demo analysis on historical data, that should be free), the provider treats the organization as a real client for the extent of the pilot, and, the provider is not profiting off of the organization. The pilot should be priced to cover cost, nothing more, nothing less.

And, as the prophet points out, done right, the benefits of a paid pilot include tactical ones such as building support for the cost/benefit analysis of different roll-out options (e.g., standardization vs. customization) as well as broader organization involvement in the overall selection of a solution (which will pay dividends in frontline adoption during a full scale deployment). And you can have confidence the solution, and solution provider, will work for you before signing a multi-year deal — all for the cost of a short consulting engagement (which will likely bring more results than a typical consulting analysis will).