A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog on what questions I think you should ask potential vendors when selecting a new helpdesk / service desk tool. This includes vendor selection, creating your document (functionality list, PQQ, RFI, ITT, etc.) and visiting references.
I wrote the blog from a viewpoint of putting myself in a prospective customer’s shoes and trying to assist them in three crucial areas based on my past 15-plus-years-experience in the IT service management (ITSM) industry.
However, there are another key areas to consider to ensure your product and vendor selection is correct for you. This is important as typically the average lifespan of a helpdesk solutions is five to 10 years.
This key area is: Presentation and Demonstration
This process fits into the overall tool selection process like so:
- Creating the Document
- Vendor Selection
So let me talk you through how I would approach this and what I would look for. It is extremely rare that an organisation would not go through this buying stage; however, I am often amazed at how little time and thought is given to such a key part of the buying cycle.
Here are the key areas to consider:
1. How much time should I allocate?
In the past, I have witnessed companies attempting to see both the presentation and the demonstrations shoehorned into a one hour slot with eight vendors in a day. This was the ultimate in car crashes for all concerned! Even the most basic solution could not do itself justice in such a short amount of time.
As an example, recently, my wife and I bought a new sofa and gave up more time than an hour on each grey, green, tweedy, two-seater, three-seater option we encountered to ensure our backs would not suffer the punishment brought about by our old sofa. Whilst I found out during this process that my budget and the reality budget were not aligned, I was not investing anywhere near the £1,000s on a new service desk tool from my company’s budget. But, I did set aside the time to select the correct sofa.
So I would recommend that the ideal time for a presentation and demonstration is a morning or afternoon session around 3.5 to 4 hours. This time should give you a good understanding of each vendor and its product. As you will note from my previous blog, you should be only seriously considering three vendors at this stage so the time you spend on this part of the process is not onerous.
2. Who should attend?
Well, I have seen from one to 23 people attend these sessions and absolutely neither of those numbers is correct!
Look at the roles of the attendees, and add it up that way. In my view, typically, the first four-to-five people should be the project manager client side, some of the process owners and ideally the business stakeholder.
That would ideally make somewhere from four-to-five to seven-to-eight people maximum from the company (the ideal number is around 4/5).
As for the vendor, typically, you, as the buyer, will want to hear about the company, technical/functionality and support, so three people from the vendor should suffice.
3. What do I expect and what do I need from the presentation?
- Allocate one hour for the presentation.
- Summarise the current position of the project. Often, time has gone by between the processes in the buying cycle, and key changes may affected the decision, its timelines, etc.
- Introduce the people from your company and importantly, their roles and responsibilities. (It is always more beneficial to send this to the vendor prior to the meeting so the vendor can better understand what the attendees want from the day.)
- Expect the vendor presentation to include information about: time in market, company size, independent validation, high level view of solution, experience with similar clients, recent wins, how they intend to run your implementation, training, types of consultancy.
- It’s absolutely key is to get an understanding of the vendor’s ongoing customer support. Does it take a part and assist you in YOUR continual service improvement programmes? Does it have a specific customer focused department, customer conferences, on line communities, etc.?
- As you read in my previous blog, you will know that the difficulty to upgrade a system is one of the top reasons for change, so make sure you have a in-depth understanding of the effects both physically and financially of any major or point upgrades.
- Most of these sessions will start with the presentation and then the demonstration; however, you know your colleagues better than the vendor. If you think your people will respond better to the presentation session after a demonstration, do not be afraid to turn this on its head. You want to ensure all meeting attendees are fully focussed throughout.
4. What should I expect, and what do I need from the demonstration?
- Again, from my earlier blog, you will know that one of the difficulties companies have is differentiating between solutions. Here is a great opportunity to get a good feel for the product being showcased.
- Allocate two-to-three hours with interaction from you and your colleagues.
- Remember: this is often one of the few opportunities you will have to get an understanding what living with the tool will be like.
- Remember your pain points and how the service desk tool being demonstrated could help to eliminate these pain points. Common pain points include:
- The system is very difficult to configure.
- We often need the vendor to help us at a cost to configure the system.
- We have configured the system to such a point we can no longer upgrade it.
- We can configure the system to a point, and then we need help since Java and SEQUEL scripting is required.
- Split the demonstration into two halves: the first is content with the second being administration. Why? Because, as much as you need to see what the product has ‘out of the box’, which will affect the total number of implementation days you will require (the closer it is to your requirements, the less number of days it will take to install), you also need to clearly understand if YOU can administrate, change, update, upgrade it, etc., yourselves. Again, your aim is to keep ongoing costs to a minimum throughout the product’s five-to-ten year lifespan.
- The content demonstration is best done if it flows and resembles real life processes. If there are demonstrated processes that do not quite match yours, ask the demonstrator if he/she could then, there, and now alter them.
- Make sure you really understand reporting from the toolset since once again, it is a key pain area for anyone who is looking for a new solution.
- Get the vendor to show you all of the things you want to do in your first project phase, in case things overrun, fire alarms, etc.
- Note how much can be automated, since process and automation is one aspect your customers/end users, and your daily work activities, will really benefit from.
- Ensure the customer interface web portal, email interface, social media tools, etc., are all easy-to-use and set-up.
- This is a key part of the demonstration. This is your chance to understand exactly what you can and cannot do with the tool yourselves!
- Push hard here to see examples of the type of workflows, form designs, integration points, automated processes, web portal changes and ongoing administration that will be required as you will own the system for many years.
- Ensure you witness these changes being created and made visible to the users.
Questions and Answers
- Ensure you leave up to 30 minutes for questions and answers, what happens next, outstanding actions, etc.
The Next Step
As I mentioned at the start of this blog, after the presentation/demonstration stage, the next step in the helpdesk tool selection process is evaluations/proof of concept (P.O.C.). The rule to remember here is: if you are going to enter into this very worthwhile stage then use it! Vendors are able to see the use of evaluations remotely and will know if the system is not being accessed. Imagine having the use of a new car for one month and leaving it on the drive for the entire period.
The most effective use of an evaluation system is:
- To include a wider audience of users who could not get to a meeting or would have made the meeting numbers unworkable.
- To get a feel for using the solution to know if it’s the right one for you.
- To better understand the “out-of-the-box” content, which can, if it’s right for you, increase the speed of implementation and reduce consultancy costs.
Lastly, if you have the time and resources, a documented P.O.C. can be very beneficial. Write this with the vendor to ensure you strike the right blend of standard functions and anything absolutely critical to the success of your project.
So, there are my four tips to help you get the most out of a service desk/help desk software presentation/demonstration and evaluation/P.O.C. The key thing to remember is that it’s critical for you to find the best tool for your specific requirements and best vendor to support you. You’ll most likely have your new tool for five to 10 years, so make the time to carefully review each product on your short list.
If you have any tips to share with the ITSM community, please do so. We’d love to hear about the tactics you’ve implemented to get the best out of this section of the procurement process.