Abandoning the old demo mindset: Today proving where something works is more important than demonstrating how it works

Posted on May 9, 2011


I can still remember the days of CP/M and the emergence of DOS as if it were yesterday.

Back in the days when 10MB was considered huge and a monitor resolution choice was limited to being either one of green phosphorous versus amber, demonstrating a system was focused on pointing out its various bells and whistles instead of how these desktop paperweights could be practically utilized in the real business world.  Thank goodness for Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston and their simple spreadsheet solution VisiCalc!

VisiCalc's Creators

Of course, and generally speaking, the PC and automation as a whole have come a long ways since those early days making significant and lasting inroads into all levels of the business world whether it be in a Fortune 500 global corporation or a small home-based business.

Unfortunately, there has been one exception to this forward progress.  I am of course talking about that old standby . . . the product demonstration.

In a W. Clement Stone my name is Joe Smith and I believe this will interest you also fashion, we have relied on demonstrating products through a variety of mediums, including the modern-day Webinar.

The problem with demonstrations as they have traditionally been conducted, is that they tell us how the product works but not where.  Or more to the point, where in our organization will this have the greatest impact and why.

Now you make think that I am splitting hairs, but think again.  When I was looking to implement a massive server farm, with raised floor and Halogen foam – yes we used Halogen back then, I did not require the vendor to demonstrate how they went about building and managing the server farm.  I was more interested in their providing proof that they had actually done what they had professed to doing, and that they had done it well.  When you are looking at spending up to $1 million of your hard earned profits, confidence in their ability to do the job as demonstrated by successful implementations is really the only how I need to know.

Demonstrating success in terms of e-automation initiatives, and in particular the undertaking to computerize a company’s purchasing process, is where the market has been long on promise and short on results.  Given the paucity of successful implementations, many vendors have relied on the smoke and mirrors of a here is how it works (or supposed to work) demo of features and functions, offering what is often times an elusive promise of down-the-road benefits.

This is why the Oakland Unified School District is such an interesting exception, and why I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Michael Moore, who supervises the district’s Procurement and Distribution Division.

During our interview, Michael talked about the very real-world impact of the initiative he oversaw from start to finish shortly after the State, through a $100 million loan to the district in which there were very specific conditions attached including a tighter control of costs, created little room for excesses.

Ironically, the very mechanisms that had originally been put in place by the State actually led to a significant increase in overall processing costs coupled with a serious decline in servicing schools in the region.  Michal recounted one example where after going 3 months without supplies, students from one school actually started crying when the delivery truck finally pulled up with the needed basics for teachers to do their job.

Perhaps this sounds extreme, however with many municipal and state governments teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, a similar scenario being played out across the country affecting all levels of government services may find a larger portion of the population also being pushed to tears.

Against this backdrop, our May 18th PI Inquisitive Eye segment in which I will share with you the excerpts of my interview with Michael, including what he referred to as the 5 essential points or steps for success, followed by a demonstration of the PECOS system that the OUSD relied upon to achieve $2 million dollars in savings annually, will clearly illustrate where a solution applies instead of how it works.

In the end, the how is definitely not as important as the where!

Access the Procurement Insights Elcom PECOS Demo Page starting May 18th at 10:00 AM EDT to see what I am talking about . . .


Posted in: Commentary