College Library, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is home to a lot of creative and innovative uses of customer facing technology. The implementation and availability of these technologies is the result of our evolving pilot process, which allows us to showcase new ideas on a trial basis and monitor their success.
We are aware that not everyone has the support and freedom to invest in unfamiliar services or technologies, so we decided to offer a resource to inform those who are interested. Here, you will find detailed write ups of planned, ongoing, or completed pilots so that you can make educated decisions based on our discoveries.
The logical starting point
Whether an epiphanic moment, a conference presentation or otherwise, all projects must begin with interest in an emerging technology or a novel use for current technology.
How would it fit into our environment? How can we offer it?
After establishing interest, the thing you must decide is the feasibility of an idea. This assessment doesn’t need to incorporate the very specific details of how you will execute the service or deploy the technology, but should provide a general idea of pilot execution. There are lots of great ideas, but there are also many factors that can prevent an idea from being successful. Some of these inhibitors can include high cost, lack of support, lack of resources (staffing, space, time, etc.), or even limitations of the hardware or software currently available. Currently, we use experiential knowledge to inform our decisions on the feasibility of a project. Feasibility assessments can be revisited at each stage of the pilot process should new information become apparent or available.
Finding the funds for physical items and allocating staff time
Once feasibility is confirmed, it’s time to invest in the solution. Investment can be as simple as ordering an item, or as complicated as creating a detailed budget and deciding who will be responsible for what costs. We include staff time in this investment, as some solutions include plug-and-play development cycles, while others include coding or other development time. In the case of software solutions, time investment is a more integral metric to track.
Test the solution in a small, closed environment and work out the details of the pilot
This is the step in the process that tends to be the most work. It requires you to consider and plan the fine details for how you are offering the technology or service.
Those details can include:
- How will you staff it?
- Where can you market, offer, or place it to provide maximum exposure?
- Are there any security risks to account for?
- What is the duration and timeline of the pilot?
Once you have worked out these details, you will want to do some testing. Testing before deployment is incredibly useful because it helps you discover possible issues with the technology or service model. These issues may result in you adjusting your format, or could give you information and tools needed to solve a problem quickly while the pilot is live.
Sometimes working through the details reveals that the pilot isn’t feasible after all. At this point, since the investment has already been made, we often explore repurposing the investment to craft a new pilot or find novel uses for the technology. In instances that have little to no monetary cost, the payoff is often in experience.
Offer the technology or service, observe, and make adjustments as needed
The moment of truth. Now it’s time to go live and monitor the success of your pilot. Make sure you provide patrons the ability to provide feedback, and/or contact information if they have specific questions or a special use-case for the technology or service.
At this stage you may notice issues you did not come across in testing. Since it’s a pilot, it’s ok to adjust and adapt as needed. If something is broken, take the time to fix it. Pay close attention to the ways that patrons use the service or technology. If there are consistent behaviors in the ways patrons interact with your pilot that differs from how you want it to be used, consider adapting to embrace them. The behaviors likely indicate an issue with how you are offering the pilot, or may reveal a different need your patrons have that can be achieved using the new service or technology you offer.
Throughout the duration of the pilot, you will also want to reach out directly to individuals or groups who may find your new service or technology useful. This will help you facilitate partnerships to drive the success of the pilot and potential future development.
Determine the fate of the technology or service
At a certain point you will need to end the pilot and determine it successful or unsuccessful. If it was a success, then it’s time to formalize and/or expand. If you consider the pilot unsuccessful, then consider it an opportunity to start the process over again repurposing your new resources.
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