Apollo’s Low-Tech Lessons for High-Tech Utilities: Learn, Challenge, Apply

Xplore_DishWe all know about the incredible success of the Apollo Program. To put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade in a low-tech society is challenging. Yet NASA did it.

As an engineer, I’ve spoken with a number of others in the field who worked on some aspect of the Apollo program, usually at suppliers. Regardless of how minor their role was (bracket and bolt to hold display in lunar module), they felt great pride and satisfaction that they were part of this success. Any one failure could have doomed the mission. So every success, regardless of how seemingly small, was a critical success.

Keep in mind that the Apollo program was completed – from initial ideation to final debrief – with limited computational tools, primitive on-board computers, and no Internet for engineering collaboration. This monumental undertaking shows that an appropriately focused and resourced team can achieve amazing things, even in a low-tech environment.

Much to their credit, one hallmark of NASA’s ongoing advancement was the application of lessons learned to future efforts. Every testing failure led to a subsequent success. Would NASA launch an Apollo module on top of a Saturn V rocket today? Absolutely not! While Apollo used the best technology available – in the 1960s – NASA would need to seek, evaluate, and apply the best-fitting technology available today to current mission specifications, knowing they were constrained only by achieving the mission and doing so within a budget.  (Plus, the Apollo program wasn’t scalable. That’s why you didn’t see many other efforts in the world modeled on the Apollo program.)

Of course everyone reading this blog wishes they had the budget of the Apollo program…as they deal with the reality of utility’s far smaller budgets and much needed improvements to service levels. Fortunately, you don’t always have to spend more to do more – if you make the right technology buys from the beginning. And, as with NASA, it is obvious that the march of technology brings significant benefits to the mission. Mobile technologies you implement today can automate work (with resultant improved accuracy), deliver new features, and be your scalable architecture for your future capabilities.

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So how do you emulate NASA’s best practices to execute – and actually scale – your mobile technology programs amidst budget constraints? You seek out a partner that’s been a leader in their respective market – and yours – for many years. Mobile technology companies with clearly-demonstrated, long-term market success will have learned several lessons over the years. They will have figured out how to apply those lessons to future efforts such as yours so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes. They’ll also have the expansive knowledge and resources to react to your specific needs quickly.

No one person will ever have all the answers or even ask all the right questions during the planning and implementation phases of your mobility projects. Find someone you trust to help you make the hard decisions and ultimately land at the perfect solution. For some, that may be the actual tech manufacturer. For others, it may be a reseller. Often, both are involved. Ask them about what has worked well and what has not worked with other deployments.

Once you’ve started the dialogue with your potential partner, you’ll be able to work with the confidence that you can introduce needed technology to make your service organization more successful if you:

  1. Deliver the hard-and-fast requirements, and challenge your tech partner to address your needs. Have them apply lessons-learned to your unique requirements.
  2. Avoid those suppliers whose answer to every one of your mobility needs is the same product. As I’ve always said, a mobile computer’s specifications on paper aren’t always capable of fulfilling your paperless environment’s specific mobile computing requirements.
  3. Find a mobile PC solution that your users, your most important asset, will accept. The technology in most people’s homes could have run the entire Apollo capsule software set, with bandwidth to stream Spotify and more left over. Your employees – regardless of age or job title – expect similar capabilities at work. Mobile technology is part of who they are and how they have learned to be effective personally and professionally. Whether they buy-in or not will make or break the ROI of your mobile buys.

This all seems easy enough, right? After all, the Apollo 11 astronauts walked on the moon, and then returned to Earth safely. The complexity of navigating today’s high-tech business environment pales in comparison once you have the right partner to help you engineer the right solution with the best available technology.

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