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3 Tips for Keeping Your UC Project in Perspective

portableFor independent consultants, perspective is everything. We are often called on to provide the 30,000-foot view, while simultaneously leveraging our experience to steer away from potential dangers lurking in our client's path. Successful engagements are driven by the ability to see the big picture and real-world details at the same time.

I love it when the worlds of my varied personal and professional interests collide. While my professional interests are entirely consumed by the incredible world of communications technology, my personal interests have been drifting in a new direction: sailing. So when those two areas intersect I am particularly intrigued.

In the past year, several notable incidents have caught the attention of not only the sailing community, but also the world at large. One of these I found quite interesting for its catastrophic nature, with multiple lives nearly lost -- and because with the proper perspective, it could have been prevented.

The story involves a recent accident during the Volvo Ocean Race, an international around-the-world race involving nine-member teams aboard 65-foot to 70-foot state-of-the-art sailboats. Each crew member has a specific job to ensure safe and fast passage.

These sailboats, which can cost more than $10 million, are designed with the latest engineering, hydrodynamic, and aerodynamic concepts in mind. They use the latest GPS technology, with integrated chart plotting, radar, instrument data, and a whole host of applications all accessible on smart screens throughout the boat. These boats literally fly -- they promote vertical lift out of the water to minimize drag by reducing displacement.

So how is it possible, with such an experienced crew, on a state-of-the-art sailboat, with every piece of technology imaginable, for a Volvo Ocean Sailing vessel to run aground during the race?

The answer is simple. According to the chart plotter (think boat GPS), there was nothing but blue water ahead. The problem was, a tiny island and reef actually sat directly in the boat's path. The navigator had zoomed out too far on the chart plotter, so much so that the island had disappeared from view. So what didn't exist on the screen very much existed when the massive sailing vessel landed upon it.

I see numerous perspective-related lessons to be learned from this horrible accident, which thankfully, all crew members survived.

  1. Don't let technology entirely replace reality – In the old days of even a few decades ago, navigators would have plotted a course with a paper map and taken periodic celestial readings to record their position. While accidents did occur in those days -- in fact, many more than today -- using their methods navigators would have properly identified this island and set a course to stay clear of it. In the virtual world of the glowing navigational screen the island couldn't be seen but obviously was there.
  2. Don't overestimate technology's place – We all do this. Technology has become such a part of our existence that we often put too much faith in it. While this is OK in many of our daily tasks, this sailing accident was a potential life-or-death situation. Because the navigator was so trusting in the chart plotter, he failed to properly plan ahead for potential problem areas of which he should be aware. So it came as a complete surprise when the boat suddenly came to a literal screeching stop.
  3. Maintain the correct perspective – The technology on the boat was doing its job perfectly. At issue was the navigator's perspective. He was zoomed out so far in his map that he couldn't see the upcoming peril. As a consultant, we have to adapt our perspective constantly to make sure our clients are heading into the right direction from a high-evel perspective, but aren't about to land on a reef. And the problem here wasn't that they bought the wrong chart plotter or even that the chart plotter failed. The user just had the wrong perspective of the situation.

    It would be foolish to pass judgment on this team, as I myself may be in the same spot one day. Stuff happens, especially in the boating world. All we can do is try to learn from the team's misfortune and apply these lessons learned to our worlds, be they professional or nautical.

    "SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC), an international organization of independent information and communication technology (ICT) professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

  4. Don't let technology entirely replace reality – In the old days of even a few decades ago, navigators would have plotted a course with a paper map and taken periodic celestial readings to record their position. While accidents did occur in those days -- in fact, many more than today -- using their methods navigators would have properly identified this island and set a course to stay clear of it. In the virtual world of the glowing navigational screen the island couldn't be seen but obviously was there.
  5. Don't overestimate technology's place – We all do this. Technology has become such a part of our existence that we often put too much faith in it. While this is OK in many of our daily tasks, this sailing accident was a potential life-or-death situation. Because the navigator was so trusting in the chart plotter, he failed to properly plan ahead for potential problem areas of which he should be aware. So it came as a complete surprise when the boat suddenly came to a literal screeching stop.
  6. Maintain the correct perspective – The technology on the boat was doing its job perfectly. At issue was the navigator's perspective. He was zoomed out so far in his map that he couldn't see the upcoming peril. As a consultant, we have to adapt our perspective constantly to make sure our clients are heading into the right direction from a high-evel perspective, but aren't about to land on a reef. And the problem here wasn't that they bought the wrong chart plotter or even that the chart plotter failed. The user just had the wrong perspective of the situation.

    It would be foolish to pass judgment on this team, as I myself may be in the same spot one day. Stuff happens, especially in the boating world. All we can do is try to learn from the team's misfortune and apply these lessons learned to our worlds, be they professional or nautical.

    "SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC), an international organization of independent information and communication technology (ICT) professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

    It would be foolish to pass judgment on this team, as I myself may be in the same spot one day. Stuff happens, especially in the boating world. All we can do is try to learn from the team's misfortune and apply these lessons learned to our worlds, be they professional or nautical.

    "SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC), an international organization of independent information and communication technology (ICT) professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

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