The proof of concept – a business fable
The Head of Data Management was a troubled man. The phrase “Big Data” had cropped up more than a few times in a lunch conversation with Jack, a senior manager from Marketing.
Jack had pointedly asked what the data management team was doing about “Big Data”…or whether they were still stuck in a data time warp. This comment had put the Head of Data Management on the defensive. He’d mumbled something about a proof of concept with vendors specializing in Big Data solutions being on the drawing board.
He spent the afternoon dialing various vendors in his contact list, setting up appointments to talk about what they could offer. His words were music to the vendors’ ears; he had no trouble getting them to bite.
The meetings went well. He was soon able to get a couple of vendors to agree to doing proofs of concept, which amounted to setting up trial versions of their software on the organisation’s servers, thus giving IT staff an opportunity to test-drive and compare the vendors’ offerings.
The software was duly installed and the concept duly proven.
…but the Head of Data Management was still a troubled man.
He had sought an appointment with Jack to inform him about the successful proof of concept. Jack had listened to his spiel, but instead of being impressed had asked a simple question that had the Head of Data Management stumped.
“What has your proof of concept proved?” Jack asked.
“What do…do you mean?” stammered the Head of Data Management.
“I don’t think I can put it any clearer than I already have. What have you proved by doing this so-called proof of concept?”
“Umm… we have proved that the technology works,” came the uncertain reply.
“Surely we know that the technology works,” said Jack, a tad exasperated.
“Ah, but we don’t know that it works for us,” shot back the Head of Data Management.
“Look, I’m just a marketing guy, I know very little about IT,” said Jack, “but I do know a thing or two about product development and marketing. I can say with some confidence that the technology– whatever it is – does what it is supposed to do. You don’t need to run a proof of concept to prove that it works. I’m sure the vendors would have done that before they put their product on the market. So, my question remains: what has your proof of concept proved?”
“Well we’ve proved that it does work for us…:
“Proved it works for what??” asked Jack, exasperation mounting. “Let me put it as clearly as I can – what business problem have you solved that you could not address earlier.”
“Well we’ve taken some of the data from our largest databases – the sales database, from your area of work, and loaded it into the Big Data infrastructure.”
“…and then what?”
“Well that’s about it…for now.”
“So, all you have is another database. You haven’t actually done anything that cannot be done on our existing databases. You haven’t tackled a business problem using your new toy,” said Jack.
“Yes, but this is just the start. We’ll now start doing analytics and all that other stuff we were talking about.”
“I’m sorry to say, this is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse,” said Jack, shaking his head in disbelief.
“How so?” challenged the Head of Data Management.
“Should be obvious but may be it isn’t, so let me spell it out. You’ve jumped to a solution – the technology you’ve installed – without taking the time to define the business problems that the technology should address.”
“…but…but you talked about Big Data when we had lunch the other day.”
“Indeed I did. And what I expected was the start of a dialogue between your people and mine about the kinds of problem we would like to address. We know our problems well, you guys know the technology; but the problems should always drive the solution. What you’ve done now is akin to a solution in search of a problem, a cart before a horse”
“I see,” said the Head of Data Management slowly.
And Jack could only hope that he really did see.
This is a work of fiction. It could never happen in real life 😉