Edited and prepared by Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU

Great interview with Alexey Sapozhnikov, co-founder and CTO, proov.

Give me a brief overview of your background.

I started my career as a software engineer across a variety of companies in Israel. I then moved up to leading teams focused on R&D at SAP Labs (overseeing employees in Israel, India and Europe) and other startups, where I was tasked with defining, developing and delivering state-of-the-art software and hardware products.

After being exposed to and overseeing so many new innovations, I took the plunge and decided to start a series of enterprise technology companies myself. The three companies I started were in areas as big data, cloud, data science, and enterprise architecture. The last company I co-founded, developed monitoring and crash-prevention solutions for cloud and big data-based web environments. Not long after selling it, my co-founder, Toby Olshanetsky and I came up with the idea to start prooV.

How did your experience lead you to creating/launching prooV?

Toby and I are both serial entrepreneurs who have known each other for about 20 years. We’d both spent many years building enterprise software, mostly for startups, and the concept behind prooV came from the struggles we both experienced in the proof-of-concept (PoC) phase. Over the years, we’d both amassed a lot of knowledge and skills in inventing and building new technologies, but the same question always remained – once the product was ready, how do you convince a big business to open a testing environment for you to showcase and sell your product to that organisation?

We realised that despite all of the latest and greatest innovations in the last two decades – cloud computing, mobile, big data, Internet of Things – the tedious PoC process had never changed. At prooV, we’re disrupting the one part of the technology lifecycle that has stayed stagnant, by providing a platform where startups and enterprises can come together to discover, connect and execute proof-of-concepts through remote and secure testing environments.

Tell me more about the proof-of-concept process.

The proof-of-concept (PoC) process demonstrates the feasibility of a technology to solve a business need, before the company purchases the solution. This phase helps to identify any technical or logistical roadblocks beforehand.

Typically, a business will define their business problem, as well as their objectives, the scope, resources, schedule and success criteria in a detailed document. From here, the company will identify and test various solutions one by one, which will be replicated in their IT environment. The business will then review and validate the PoC results with all stakeholders and compare them against their objectives before deciding which vendor to move forward with.

What are the biggest challenges involved in a PoC process?

There are several big challenges in the PoC process. Firstly, Chief Information Officers or Chief Innovation Officers are constantly on the lookout for new technologies, but with so many cool startups out there, they don’t always know which ones will best match their business requirements. Whether it’s cybersecurity, big data, business intelligence, blockchain or something else, there is an overwhelming number of technology innovations in the market today.

Secondly, once the company has identified the startups, meeting with each of them and setting up their testing environment one by one is both time consuming and exhausting. It can seem like a redundant exercise in sitting down with each vendor to talk through the infrastructure, the integration, etc. In a recent Cisco study, it found that a whopping 60 percent of Internet of Things initiatives don’t make it past the PoC stage, because there’s challenges in time, expertise, quality of data, integration and budget available.

The third, and maybe greatest challenge stems to the fact that the data within an enterprise is sensitive at best and completely restricted at worst. Even if there is a will and the resources to set up the integration for each dedicated testing environment, populating it with relevant and reliable data to ensure the validity of the PoC results is a whole other story. One that involves Legal, Information Security and lengthy bureaucracy.

Finally, there is the question of how to effectively measure the results of the PoC.
When running a PoC with several startups at once, the enterprise’s ultimate goal is to understand how the solutions will perform when implemented in the production environment and how they measure against the enterprise’s different business KPIs (cost, availability, etc.). Monitoring, calculating and predicting this is no easy task. Not to mention that in many cases, while companies are clear on what their goals are and why they are looking at a particular technology, they’re not always an expert in the particular innovation to know how to evaluate it in-depth. Since our platform runs multiple PoCs, we not only save time and energy for the entire PoC phase, but also supply both business and technology KPIs based on the aggregate PoC data and insights we have for our enterprise customers.

Are there companies or industries that struggle more than others with PoCs, and why?

Interestingly, we found that highly regulated industries – such as healthcare and financial services – have been some of the most active sectors using our platform. This is because traditionally it’s been very challenging for them to even commence the PoC process, as they have a lot of sensitive data and policies that mean that they need to be extremely meticulous in how they test-drive and evaluate technologies in their IT environments.

At prooV, we help mitigate this issue through our deep mirroring techniques, which generated mocked versions of the company’s data to simulate their IT environment and conditions. This way, multiple startups can test-drive their technologies for a business at once.

What advice would you give to startups that are looking to build a successful enterprise technology company?

Firstly and foremostly, make sure to recruit the right people, who are passionate about the business and the vision. Secondly, always continue to build upon your product. A study from a few years ago found that startups have a lifespan of a mere 20 months, and when you think of the most successful technology companies, they are the ones that are always looking to innovate and question the status quo.

Finally, remember that building a successful enterprise technology company is never easy, and you will encounter many challenges. It’s important to realise that failure isn’t a death sentence – rather, fear of failure is more problematic than failure itself. Consider these times as ways to consider new creative approaches to become successful.

You undoubtedly see a lot of new innovations being tested on prooV. Which technologies are you most excited about and why?

It’s a tough question, as there are so many cutting-edge technologies being tested on the platform – blockchain, cybersecurity, Internet of Things and many others. I’d say these technologies are examples that I’m excited about, primarily because they have the potential to upend the current processes within an industry in a radical way.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Based on the PoCs we see running everyday in the prooV platform, it’s a groundbreaking time for innovation to flourish between startups and enterprises. We’re excited to serve as the hub for test-driving the latest technologies for businesses around the world, and we’re looking forward to helping more and more organisations simplify the PoC process.

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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