Optimising the PoC Process to Drive Innovation and Digital Agility

Digital transformation is now the beating heart of many organisations around the world. But for all the attention on transformation, still too many companies struggle to deliver on time and master the complexity. Alex James, CTO of Ascent, argues that building a solid proof of concept could be the answer…

Digital transformation projects remain a top priority for digital leaders in 2022 with research from IDC predicting global spend will reach US$2.8 trillion in 2025 and an annual growth of 16.4% to 2025. An overwhelming  96% of businesses now place innovation in their top five strategic priorities. This means increasing skill and innovation in transformation project planning phases is critical to deliver disruptive new products and business capabilities needed to support continuously evolving customer demands.

To build visionary new software and data products within increasingly pressured timescales, the initial development of a proof of concept (PoC) is critical to determine the viability of a project and take it rapidly and successfully through the evolution process from brief to implementation. But it’s not as easy as it sounds for digital leaders to achieve PoC success.

Why Do PoCs Matter?

At the outset of a business/technology partnership, starting with a PoC can help de-risk a major project or implementation. PoCs surface potential complexities and dependencies that might prove tricky as the project progresses, ensuring they are discussed and resolved up front to give reassurance to stakeholders. It’s a short, sharp piece of work that is done to assess viability against specific business objectives.

Attributes of Successful PoCs

Successful PoCs start with a clear understanding of the desired outcome. This groundwork is fundamental. Engaging with stakeholders and communicating the rationale and the value is vital: if the PoC isn’t aligned to business objectives, it will likely fizzle out.

A best practice approach to a PoC includes:

  • Define the Brief
    It’s important to ensure the PoC brief isn’t too broad. Spend time to consider the underlying problems that need fixing and provide assurance to the sponsors. Being clear about goals and mutually-agreed deliverables with clear metrics is critical to success. A PoC is a short exercise, around 10-12 weeks, so it’s worth making every hour of every day count.
  • Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
    It’s also important to have clear ownership of deliverables (and visibility of those deliverables) to ensure the POC doesn’t run past the expected completion date. This is particularly important if your stakeholders come from revenue-generating parts of the company such as sales, product and engineering. Clear governance and ownership are key so ensure planning is rigorous.
  • Connect With Business Value
    An organisation can have a technically performant team, but it’s also important to have  someone in the team who can connect a project back to the business value. Engineers tend to focus on the features and development of the software and capability, but they’re not looking back up into the business in terms of prioritisation and making sure that what’s being built is still fit for purpose. One of the biggest PoC pitfalls is building something that’s technically brilliant, but won’t engage and work for the users.
  • Focus on the UX
    Linked to this, user experience couldn’t be more important in our digital-first age, but surprisingly it’s often overlooked. PoCs are technical in nature, and as production gets nearer, it’s critical to ask, ‘Is this humanised? What’s the value to the user?’ This ranks as a top priority as users are typically vocal about underwhelming experiences, which can destabilise even the most well-planned initiatives and diminish confidence.
  • Embrace the Cloud
    Cloud is a huge enabler of PoCs, offering organisations real agility to build, deploy, and scale software and data products more easily. Leading platforms like Microsoft Azure offer opportunities to deliver new innovation in this cloud-native environment, advancing speed of production and offering development flexibility, with critical elements of security and governance built in. This frees project leaders to focus on their business solution rather than delivery technicalities.

It’s All About Simplification

The keyword for digital leaders embarking on a development from PoC to production is simplification. Make critical decisions early, and simplify your architecture, your team, roles, and responsibilities – lock down these elements down from the outset. Think about the outcome you’re trying to drive, and what the customer should think, feel and do at the end of the exercise.

Success means much more than just a technically successful PoC. Organisations need a focussed innovation programme, clear support from leadership and the right tools – especially embracing the cloud – to increase flexibility and agility and stay ahead of the innovation curve.

It’s often the small ideas that lead to the most ground-breaking solutions, so innovate and iterate as much as you can – and prioritise effectively – to maximise flexibility and agility in a changing landscape. Through understanding the attributes of a successful PoC, and assessing viability according to business objectives, you can manage the tricky balancing act of the tech and the stakeholders to create real business value.


Alex James
CTO, Ascent

Alex currently serves as Chief Technology Officer at Ascent, where he is responsible for technical strategy and ensuring technical performance from Ascent’s team of 350+ software and data engineers across four European centres. Previously, he was a non-exec director at Ascent UK (Purepoint), and a CEO before that. He has extensive experience in software engineering and has worked with big brands like the BBC, HBO, Google, HSBC, BT, Bosch, and many more.