Think of a technology comparison process where a company compares and tests two or more competing technologies from multiple vendors to help them choose the right product or service.
At first glance, the qualifiers sound like proofs of concept and pilot tests, but the qualifiers are clearly different.
They are different in that competing technologies are actually placed in a customized, simulated production environment that includes direct participation from the buyer’s own employees and their IT group. The staging environment uses the company’s own business processes and systems. The goal is to put each vendor’s system through rigorous simulation in the company’s own environment and determine which solution fits and works best.
Tech providers like to steer clear of cooking competitions if they can. One reason is that baking contests require considerable commitments of vendor time and staff to support them.
Because each solution is being tested in a simulated production environment and compared to at least one other solution, winning a contract from a buyer goes far beyond having the highest RFP rating. It’s even better than succeeding with a small proof of concept.
Due to the time and staff that vendors must devote to baking contests, not every buying company can handle one. Typically, the companies favored by contests are either very large companies looking to sign large, lucrative deals, or smaller companies that a vendor is trying to attract as it begins to build and establish its customer base.
How Buyers Benefit from Bakeoffs
Bakeoffs allow companies to test a new product in their real work environment, with their users and IT kicking the tires and putting the product to the test. It is an opportunity to learn the pros and cons of the product in your own environment. This gives the company valuable experience should they decide to purchase and implement the product. Baking also gives them a head start on what business systems and processes they might want to review when a pre-production product is finally introduced.
During the preparation process, buyers get to know the vendor and understand what type of vendor support they are likely to receive if they sign the product. By getting to know both the seller and the product up close and before making a final decision, the buyer reduces the risk of making the wrong choice.
The downside, of course, is that it requires a commitment of resources from IT and business users to make baking easy.
Depending on the product being tested, a bake can take anywhere from several days to two weeks. Occasionally baked ones last longer, but this should be avoided whenever possible. Bakeoffs should also be limited to mission critical systems.
Once preparations are complete, IT and end users meet to evaluate and come to a final selection of vendors.
The best ingredients for baking
Bakeoffs can be very effective in that they can minimize the risk of choosing the wrong solution or underestimating an implementation. However, they only work if they are carefully planned, if the products under review are thoroughly evaluated against business and IT goals, and if everyone (users, IT, and vendors) is fully engaged in the process.
Here are four main ingredients for optimal baking success:
- Fully articulate the results you want to achieve in your business case. Companies asking prospective vendors to enter a readiness contest must have a clearly defined business case or reason for wanting the product evaluated, along with a list of desired performance metrics that each tested solution is expected to meet. or exceed These metrics must be measurable and objective. In advance, participating vendors and internal staff must fully understand the business goals and performance levels to be achieved.
- Dedicate a full-time baking crew to the project. Bakeoffs take time and require an investment of staff. When Baking Contests are held, the Baking Contest Team, a combination of supplier and company personnel, must be dedicated full-time to the Baking Contest until its conclusion.
- Train and prepare your baking team. Many participants, especially within companies, will be new to the concept of a baking contest. When starting a baking competition, project members should be given extensive information about what to expect at a baking competition, details like who is the project manager. Lines of communication with participating vendors must be clear and open, and interactions between vendors and company personnel must occur daily throughout the preparation process.
- Limit your providers. Sourcing should only be done after you have gone through a request for proposal (RFP) and other preliminary screening processes to narrow down your choice of vendors. Typically, a bake involves only two products or suppliers, which are then compared against each other under actual operating conditions. The company must take both products seriously, but wants one last substantive test before making a final decision.
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