Many project managers and vendors use the terms “software evaluation” and “proof of concept” loosely, but in reality, they’re two separate types of engagements. These are the key differences between the two:
1) A software evaluation allows you to evaluate the software “out of the box” or “OOB” for a period of time (i.e. 90 days). The proof of concept also allows you to evaluate the software, but it’s not only OOB, it includes custom work that’s needed by your organization. Typically, software evals are done for smaller engagements, whereas, proof of concepts are done for larger projects that involve multiple business owners across the enterprise (think mission critical).
2) A software evaluation is typically used when there is no custom coding needed to “prove” that the vendor’s solution will work for your organization. A proof of concept agreement is used when there is custom coding needed.
3) A proof of concept agreement will usually have business requirements, systems requirements or a combination of the two included that outline what the vendor’s solution needs to “prove”. These requirements are attached as an addendum or exhibit to the main proof of concept agreement and should be agreed to by both the vendor and your organization before signing (similar to a Statement of Work). In fact, I’ve seen a Statement of Work attached to proof of concept agreement as well, so this wouldn’t be unusual.
4) The vendor’s intellectual property is involved in both cases. However, in the proof of concept agreement, the vendor will typically create a custom instance of their solution for your organization’s use. This is different from a software evaluation that’s out of the box and doesn’t include custom coding. The vendor will most likely (and this is fully within their rights) add language to the proof of concept agreement that will allow them to copy and distribute the custom code that they create for you to other buyers. This is a very smart move on the vendor’s part, because you may not purchase their solution, but they’ll still get something out of it, which may be very beneficial to another customer.
5) Money. Software evaluations are typically done for free, whereas a proof of concept may have a cost associated with it depending on the vendor’s level of effort (LOE). However, I’ve worked with many vendors who’ve provided the proof of concept at no cost.
In a previous post I talk more about proof of concept agreements, so check that out if you decide to engage in a proof of concept. Bottom line, ensure that whichever route you take, you choose the correct contract vehicle that will allow your organization to determine if the vendor’s software will meet your needs. Best of luck!