Proof Of Concept: More Powerful Than A Demo, Read Between The Lines

Published on September 12, 2019

Zef Deda

Zef Deda is a business development manager at Acorn Legal Solutions. An e-discovery thought leader working with Am Law 100 firms and corporate legal departments, Zef plays a key role in leveraging his knowledge of advanced technology and phased project plans in helping clients solve complex issues. Zef positions himself as a collaborative thought partner to ensure the best outcomes through his understanding of his client’s problems, their end goals, and working closely with them to identify and ensure the best possible outcomes.

Recently, I have been a part of many conversations with clients and peers of mine throughout the industry about how to distinguish new tools and determine when to adopt them. It is a really common topic – there is even a whole panel on the topic at the ACEDS Ohio Conference I’m attending today. A lot of new products being offered to end clients and I completely understand that it can be overwhelming to evaluate what is the best fit for you and your team. The fact of the matter is, technology is hard to evaluate in a vacuum and it is also hard to adopt without the right team around it.

When discussing potential new technologies with my clients, I like to do a proof of concept (POC) as a method for them to get insight into the technology and the team. For those clients interested in making change soon, I find a proof of concept works better for them than a software demo. We essentially use our client’s own data from a recent matter and quickly run an end-to-end process on it. It’s a low risk, no cost and limited time investment to assess the new technology and the service behind the tools. Adopting new software without an adoption plan is doomed to fail. People and process need to fit in, too. The POC should be evaluating all three.

Here’s what a proof of concept can tell you

How much does your service provide focus on understanding the problem?

From a POC, you can see whether the service provider is pushing features, or focused on service and understanding the underlying challenges you are facing. A really good team will take the time to understand what you are doing today, what you want to change, and what your goals are. From there, the service provider can guide you to workflows, applications and features that will have immediate benefits to you. And, they can quantify those benefits in terms of time, money and risk.

How does the new software compare to the current technology solution on an apples-to-apples basis?

I think at one point or another we have all heard or said, “All providers say the same thing” or my favorite “You’re a sales person, you all claim to have the best product and service”. When I try to empathize with prospective clients, I can see why they may have these thoughts. For the most part, industry software demos are based on the Enron dataset – and it’s hard to know how much work the software is doing versus how much has been scripted based on familiarity with the underlying dataset. What better way to block out the chatter than getting a live look at your data in context with a potential product? There are a lot of great products out there and they can be a great fit for clients, but sometimes a demo doesn’t showcase that very well.

I only sell products and services that I think are in the best interest of my clients. But, I understand when my potential clients have a healthy dose of skepticism about my claims. They are easy to make. But, the proof is in the pudding. The blind retroactive approach can be an extremely powerful way to test a POC. This is where we take data from a case our client has done recently, and we put it in a new technology and treat it as if it’s a new case we are working on. So, the outcome of the previous case is blind to us. Most of my clients have taken this approach and found it really beneficial.

The client gets to take a look at what type of features and tools the new product has, while having the added benefit of fully understanding all the details of the case. With retroactive POC, clients are able to identify how quickly information would have been pushed to them compared to what they actually did. From there, they can understand: How does this new tool make their litigation process more efficient and less burdensome? Or does it not do any of that and are their current tools and process sufficient? Either way, because my clients are looking at data they are familiar with, they are able to answer these questions very quickly.

How good is your service provider at nuts-and-bolts service?

In looking across the entire process that is involved in a successful POC, my clients have realized that in addition to understanding whether the actual product was valuable, they could also see if the service provider was a good fit for them as well. The process creates an opportunity for potential clients to learn how well the service provider communicates, whether they ask sufficient and effective questions (regarding the case and what you are trying to accomplish), how consistently they hit deadlines that you both agree to. Even though it’s not a Live case, all of these things are important. If the provider you are working with applies these type of methodologies to a “practice” scenario that generates no revenue, it is probably a good indicator of what to expect during a live case.

Final Thoughts

Finding new technologies and potential partners is extremely difficult, I understand that. A POC does not always make sense in every case. But just like any big purchase we make in our daily lives, a lot of steps go into the evaluation process: research on specific tools and partners, peers feedback on their preferred tools, clarification of needs vs wants. Once all that research is done, try to engage with a potential partner for a POC. Because at that point, it will give you the most clear picture as to whether or not that solution is a good fit for underlying goals.


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About Acorn 

Acorn is a legal data consulting firm that specializes in AI and Advanced Analytics for litigation applications, while providing rigorous customer service to the eDiscovery industry. Acorn primarily works with large regional, midsize national and boutique litigation firms. Acorn provides a high-touch, customized litigation support services with a heavy emphasis on seamless communications. For more information, please visit