Running a proper PoC is essential to your future success. Do you have your bases covered?
Many companies these days are pushing the envelope with creative C-Suite titles like Chief Music Officer and Chief Smile Officer. While we have all raised a collective eyebrow at this flurry of new and creative C-suite identifiers, one title that every company will actually need, and soon, is Chief Proof Officer – that is, someone whose unique role is to explore relevant innovative products orbiting in the ecosystem, and run proof-of-concepts to test them and ensure compatibility. Whether C-Suited or not, companies need to make sure there is someone taking on this role, and here’s why.
Companies not constantly in pursuit of new innovations will fall behind competitors and ultimately become irrelevant. A recent survey by Dell of 2,000 enterprises showed that more than 60% of them feel challenged by new competitors entering their service fields. A staggering 45% of interviewees fear they will be obsolete within three years, and 73% think that they are not doing enough to innovate within their companies. The rise of technologies such as Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning has brought a plethora of solutions to market and so the question that needs to be asked is—with many enterprises readily acknowledging the need to innovate, why aren’t they?
Innovation is a full-time job. It requires constant knowledge of available products and services, discovering pertinent solutions, testing them, evaluating them, and integrating them. The current overall process of innovation is inefficient and painful, especially for enterprises in certain sectors, like Finance and Healthcare, which have extra hurdles to overcome due to the sensitivity of their assets. While larger organizations have begun to host incubators and accelerators as a way of keeping abreast of the scene, they are often limited in cross-industry scope and by nature accessible only to companies within a certain geographic location that fall under a certain threshold of resources and budget.
But aren’t there already people in place within companies who are supposed to be on top of this? What about the Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Chief Innovation Officers (CINOs)? While these executives do often succeed in finding necessary external innovations, it is just one of their many responsibilities. The CIOs mostly oversee the enterprise’s IT infrastructure—both the teams and the computer systems that support the company’s operations. An already demanding position, the role of CIO is becoming more challenging than ever with the increased digitalization of corporate services and processes. The responsibility of creating and managing the underlying backbone on which the enterprise runs is an enormous job that may not leave much time for actively scouring the Earth in search of innovative solutions, let alone the necessary testing process that precedes integration.
Companies fortunate enough to have CINOs tend to rely on them to guide R&D and other internal innovation processes. Charged with the tasks of creating an environment that fosters innovation within the company and developing ideas that will increase its competitiveness, CINOs typically identify opportunities for growth but turn inwards to find or create solutions in-house. With the changing scope of technology and innovation, even a company with a dedicated CIO and CINO requires a full-time executive with their finger on the pulse of innovation across the greater tech ecosystem in order to benefit from the plethora of external solutions ripe for the picking.
It should be made clear: This role should not be filled by an entry-level employee. We’re reaching a point where companies need to essentially “innovate or die trying”—there’s no longer room for stagnation and complacency. And companies are now embracing that new reality, with 73% of those same companies surveyed planning to create a comprehensive innovation strategy, and 2/3 of them committed to investing in digital leadership positions. A Chief Proof Officer must be in a position to have a bird’s eye view of the company and the ability to look critically at all of its parts. Thus, he or she will be fully aware of the organization’s needs, be able to prioritize which innovations must be found and implemented first, and manage them with efficiency.
The CPO should also have the skills and authority to directly facilitate the Proof-of-Concept (PoC) process, the bane of corporate innovation, from initial outreach to complete integration. Here an understanding of the current enterprise/startup political relationship is paramount. Enterprises need startups for their fresh innovative solutions and startups need enterprises for their capital resources and implementation opportunities. Although technically competitors, these players engage each other in a symbiotic cooperative process—“coopetition.”
In order to find software solutions to test, the CPO must be proactively looking outside the company both for answers to problems the company is facing and other innovations that could preempt a potential threat sometime in the future, the “unknown unknowns.” If you’re hunting for a new solution when the problem has become critical, you’re already too late. The search for innovation needs to be constant and done with a sense of urgency. On the other side, startups often send their innovative solution to the wrong person at an enterprise, leading to delays and headaches, but having a go-to executive at an enterprise would make life easier for all parties involved.
Evaluating and testing various solutions is also a critical role for CPOs. Many companies don’t have the bandwidth to conduct in-depth tests among the diverse options and settle for the first one they find – to their own detriment. All too often companies run a PoC and select a solution that looks great, only to have it crash or malfunction upon integration. A CPO would have the time to seriously evaluate the aptitude of the tested solutions and make sure they can properly fit and scale within the enterprise’s system. And of course, once decided upon and acquired, the CPO would oversee the implementation process, make sure the new tool is being properly utilized, and handle any maintenance needs or fixes.
The ever-quickening pace of business development and the tools that support it have created the need for collaborations and partnerships between companies and organizations of all sizes across the spectrum at an unprecedented level. Enterprises and startups would do well to recognize these “coopetitive” possibilities as the mutually beneficial opportunities they are, and take steps to equip themselves with the right personnel to engage them. Establishing a Chief Proof Officer who has these relationships as his or her top priority is the first step enterprises must embrace as they innovate their process of innovation.