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A reminder -- moving beyond pilots

Search for the word ‘pilot’ on this siteThat is an interesting historical search – pages and pages of Start Me Up pilots in tech, programs, initiatives large and small, all linked, no doubt to corresponding media spend and press releases.  Think back on the cycles of tech deployment.  Remember the Alpha test, when the product barely worked at all.  After those bugs were uncovered by testers who had scripts designed for successful outcomes, it was time for the Beta test – where selected prospective users are identified, put the offering through its paces, under an assumption that the pilot will be converted to permanent deployment. 

Why do pilots exist?  Today, the traditional project life cycle seems quaint.  Companies buy, deploy, cancel and forget cloud-based software at breathtaking speed. Primary motivation for pilots combines business uncertainty and a reasonable deal from the vendor.  Will this solution work well for my business? Will the participants I’ve rounded up accept the new process or tech? Has the tech firm agreed that licenses for use of the technology during the pilot will be free – and that an initial installation for a limited number will be either free or discounted after the pilot?  Are prospective sponsors enthusiastic and ready to give the tech or service a try?  Have learnings from the pilot been documented and distributed?  

But some pilots produce little -- beyond an extension of the pilot.  Business coordinators are still unsure – because the people they have involved may be unsure or uncommitted. The technology that seemed charming or interesting during the pilot may be of little long-term use outside of the pilot. Funding for purchases of hardware, software or services for deployment may disappear or was never budgeted. Or the administration of the product or service is lacking. Or organizational change occurs – either sponsor or vendor. Worse, there never seems to be a follow-up press release stating that organization or company A, B, or C discontinued the pilot – so it is left to the rumor mill to speculate. The Comcast Internet Essentials pilot started in 2015 is still expanding in for low-income elderly. Who knew?

Some pilots succeed and the offering is deployed, but...  When the stars align (offering, price, available training, support and service), then pilots succeed -- and deployment begins. Incentives, like that for Comcast, are in place.  The organizations committed to the pilot are stable. Eventually, for example, senior housing organizations achieve the prediction of becoming WiFi-enabled, and so they are candidates for use of WiFi dependent technology.  Ideally deployment is easy – the offering is in the cloud or easily downloaded – the hardware is inexpensive, easily shipped or is a commodity – or even better, everyone already has the hardware.  Sometimes the pilot just ends, with an optimistic word about the future. So often, deployment takes too much money, may not be scalable, and offers too little benefit (consider Paro the Seal), too much organizational stability or motivation and too many years. So the question is, why are pilots standard practice, or is this construct simply an excuse for vendor-funded experiments, inadequate research and poor specifications of actual requirements?  And what is the boundary between a pilot and phase one of an actual deployment? Or is deployment only recognizable in the rear view mirror of organizational history? Thoughts welcome.

 

Comments

 So true. The pilot is the political 'tick box'. Yes it's being done, so someone can say it's being done - but there is no long-term commitment to it. Which is why, so often, the pilot is merely a haven for mediocrity.

Getting the technology to work is only the first step on a long journey to deliver better outcomes in health and aged care. Pilots are important, but we need a collaborative team approach to introducing systemic solutions that include technology into our sector. That requires buy-in and communication, and a demonstration of real benefit.

I so agree about endless pilots.! Fundamentally it's should be about risk mitigation prior to large scale deployment. My advice -look at the risks of deployment, look at all the existing evidence and only test for those factors that are outstanding or unique to your organization. It usually about organizational change not does the product work!