AoA? Huh? Oh, it’s a requirement in the contract?
The Project Manager (PM) has just pulled up fresh a printout of a request for proposal (RFP), since he needed to balance his carbon footprint, a deficit that he acquired by using all of the 4HP his plug in Toyota RAV4 provided to him. And 94 pages into the RFP, under an unrelated heading, a Federal contracting officer, using “plain” English as required by the Plain Language Act, has said an AoA is required. That’s OK … I’ll just pull up my trusty SharePoint search and grab something from an old proposal and slap it into wherever it needs to live. But what is an AoA?
An analysis of alternatives for a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) application is a process of evaluating and comparing different COTS applications to determine which one best meets the requirements of a particular task for an organization. This process involves considering various factors, including features, functionality, cost, support, and scalability, and then making a decision based on those factors.
Why conduct an Analysis of Alternatives?
It’s a good idea.
Example – American Muscle … Now … Netherlandian Muscle
The last time I bought a car, I started with the basics … 4 tires and a steering wheel, and maybe it could be a locally built car from a small manufacturer. Firing up a Google search, I was in for a shocker … Cars LLC USA does not make any cars. And what’s that … Mopar, the all-American icon, is actually owned by a Netherlands based company called Stellantis?
I could have blindly bought a Toyota RAV4 and all its of 4HP and that would have been the end of it … my PM has one and he is on top of his game. And no, it’s not that I don’t trust my PM … it’s just that my car needs to haul two kicking and screaming passengers and three 40lbs bags of cement in the trunk. My PM probably only needs to haul one bag of cement. I just need to figure out transportation for my specific situation. Enter the AoA.
The AoA involves identifying all of the COTS products that are available in the market that serve the basic functions for the task. Then, a whittling down of that COTS list is needed, to determine which products meet the core requirements. An evaluation of this paired down list results in an even smaller list, and testing and pricing are thrown into the mix. The end product is a list of alternatives that satisfies the core requirements demanded by the task.
Now I know that I should look for only white cars with tinted windows that have 5 tires, in case I have a blow-out on a hot summer day. And the AM radio is optional.
How to conduct an Analysis of Alternatives?
AoA, the ChatGPT way.
My friend, ChatGPT.
Of course, I asked my buddy, ChatGPT, to chime in on this topic. I fed it one line and it spit out an intro, six bullets and a summary. Copy, paste and send. Done. Since my timesheet is in hourly increments, I just earned an hour’s pay.
But as I read the intro, six bullets and the summary, I thought that ChatGPT was probably a quiet participant in all the requirement meetings that went into the AoA process. Scary, but surprisingly refreshing. If the AI chatbots take over the world, they may not be too far off the mark.
So here is, verbatim, the response from my buddy, ChatGPT:
When considering a COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) product, it’s important to conduct an analysis of alternatives to ensure that you’re selecting the best product for your needs. Here are some steps to follow:
- Define your requirements: Determine what functionality you need from the COTS product. Make a list of your requirements and prioritize them based on importance.
- Research available products: Use online research, industry publications, and other resources to identify COTS products that meet your requirements. Consider factors like cost, features, scalability, support, and ease of use.
- Evaluate each product: Once you have a list of potential products, evaluate each one based on your requirements. Create a spreadsheet or table to compare the products side-by-side, listing their features, strengths, weaknesses, and costs.
- Consider the vendor: Evaluate the vendor’s reputation, financial stability, and support options. Consider the vendor’s experience in the industry, customer feedback, and whether they offer training or consulting services.
- Test the product: Request a demo or trial of the product to see how it works in practice. This will help you assess its ease of use, functionality, and compatibility with your existing systems.
- Make a decision: Based on your analysis, choose the product that best meets your requirements, fits within your budget, and offers the level of support you need.
- Overall, conducting an analysis of alternatives for a COTS product can help you make an informed decision that will benefit your organization in the long term.
AoA, the Infotrend way.
Now, I will have to earn that pay, and the hour of work just turned into ten. Rats! I am salaried … I will get paid for eight. And as the page count increased as I was writing this, it occurred to me that my friend, ChatGPT, must have been “trained” with Infotrend data.
At a high level, Infotrend approaches the task of selecting and implementing a COTS product in four easy steps. Preheat the oven and gather and validate requirements. Then do the prep and cooking that is needed to perform the AoA. After that, bake the output into recommendations. And then, taste the implemented product. Although we are focusing on the AoA, let’s briefly go though the other steps as well.
Requirements. Enough said. This is the foundation for everything. As a kid, you have probably been coached by your parents and grandparents that language, math and knitting skills are the foundation of life skills. How else would you know how much change to expect back when you purchase a Twinkie for $2.79 at the gas station and pay with Apple Pay?
Infotrend analyzes the initial request, generally in the form of an RFI/RFP. These sources lead to an understanding of why the Federal entity is looking for a solution, and also leads to hints that they have tried and accomplished on their own. It also provides leads to existing processes and problems. Infotrend then looks at any historical market research and use cases that may exist. These often indicate the path the Federal entity wants to take, and identifies potential rabbit holes. And finally, Infotrend conducts managed information and requirement gathering sessions where business analysts and stakeholders probe into the task. The end result of this process is a core set of requirements that define the task at hand.
Perform the AoA.
Whipping out the corporate credit card, we whine and (fill in the blank: BYOB – Bring Your Own Byword … what rhymes with dine?) with vendors, trying to figure out who can do what. Then, we ask the vendors what they can do. But of course, we don’t believe them … anyone wanna buy a bridge in New York? Real cheap too! So, we ask the vendors to self-assess the level of damage on the trusses of the bridge, ask them to take us on site and show us the trusses, and finally, we BYOH (Bring Your Own Hammer) and pound the trusses to dust as a way to evaluate the bridge. Whoa! What are those sirens? It’s the New York Transit Police. Scatter. And drop the hammers innocently over the side of the bridge and walk like you own the bridge.
A prominent player in market research.
Infotrend conducts market research to identify and engage with vendors. This is key to understanding what is available in the marketplace. Leveraging industry specific research from key players like Gartner and PeerSpot helps a focused kickstart to the market research. Analysts armed with the core requirements scour the offerings of vendors looking for matches, and evaluating the Federal agency and Government acquisition of similar products adds to the creation of a broad selection of vendors that may have a solution. Establishing connections with these vendors and engaging with the pre-sales and technical teams, Infotrend learns of the products by going through conversations with vendors, product documentation and whitepapers and vendor driven capability demos.
Infotrend then provides these vendors a framework for the interactions that need to happen. As a first step, Infotrend asks the vendors to self-assess themselves against the core requirements. The self-assessment is generalized to the obfuscate the outcomes that Infotrend is seeking, and the results of the self-assessment are weighted and analyzed.
Infotrend’s analysis of the self-assessments leads to product demonstrations by vendors, with an objective to display capabilities that align with the core AOA requirements. Additionally, Infotrend works with vendors to elucidate features and functionality that could be of interest to Infotrend and our Federal partners. The self-assessments are matched to the demonstrated capabilities by Infotrend analysts.
If you pass go, collect 200 Smackers. That one sentence was enough, but I know the technical writer (Yes, I am calling you out!), will strike it off and say that a sentence is just not enough to be called a paragraph. OK, now I have three sentences. And moving on to the non-jovial stuff …
Based on the demos, Infotrend now evaluates core requirements and their prioritization in order to factor them into the recommendations. Infotrend will evaluate total cost of ownership, costs incurred in proving the solution, vendor assessments, vendor stability reliability, effectiveness of collaboration with the vendor and many other factors, some of which are not suitable for open dissemination. Using a statistical decision model, a recommendation is made. While there is some subjectivity in the input of the decision model, it is limited by the requirements list and the assessment process itself. This AOA process has been acknowledged and validated by many Federal partners.
Just keep clicking the next button until you get to a finish button. Did you read the legalese when you clicked “I agree”? Because, if you had read paragraph 132, section 4, sub-section 9, you would know that you have agreed to be my personal towel person. I’ll be hitting the stationary bike in 15, please be on station. And can you fill my water bottle while you are at it?
Infotrend is currently managing, and has managed, the deployment, implementation and support of many products in the Federal arena, both custom products that have gone through a lifecycle process, and COTS products. Infotrend understands integration and modernization efforts currently underway, that need to meet Federal IT requirements, leverage cloud solutioning and maintain a value proposition for the taxpayer dollars spent. Infotrend works with vendors in the implementation of the selected product, either as a conduit, SME or a systems integrator, to assure that the delivered product meets all of its advertised specifications and requirements.
This is where I say that this is how it’s done. So … this is how it’s done.
My team-mate is a cloud architect who came down to earth and splashed-up a wave. Saved me a ton of time, and they do say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Let’s make that 900 words … the rest is just filler so that I can meet the word count, and since this was all written after several happy hours, the remaining words might be worth a black square pixel, which, technically, is still a picture.
AoA, the Infotrend way.
An Analysis of Alternatives is a valuable tool. Unless a monopolistic product is in the mix, an AoA has universal applicability, irrespective of project size and scope. An AoA ultimately provides the pathway to a solution that is the closest fit to a set of requirements. It does this in a documented, repeatable, and auditable way.
Talking of requirements, don’t forget the foundational life skills your parents and grandparents instilled in you as a child. Now let’s see … $2.79 …if I carry the 2 and subtract 5 …
And based on the results of my AoA, the car I really need, is a 2011 Toyota Camry with a dent in the rear quarter panel … it should be black, but will have 5 tires and tinted windows. Now, I’ll tweak a few of the requirements to see if the AoA can “recommend” a Netherlandian Muscle with a hemi :). In White.