What Arctic Explorers Amundsen and Scott can teach us about Technology.

Between 1911 and 1912, two arctic explorers, Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott, endeavoured to reach the South Pole. Amundsen painstakingly planned his trip. He studied the methods of Eskimos and other arctic explorers. He reckoned that dogsled would be the best mode of transport for equipment and supplies. He mustered a team of experienced dog and ski handlers. He was fastidious in his attention to detail. From ski goggles to clothing, he painstakingly made sure that every piece of equipment would suit the environment in which it would be used.

His competitor, Robert Scott, a British naval officer reckoned a more high-tech approach would work best. He bought motorised sledges. He bought the most expensive goggles and clothing he could find. However, the equipment he bought was more suited to a mountaineering expedition than an arctic one.

Both expedition leaders spent a lot of money on equipment. However, it was only in the unforgiving arctic wilderness where Scott’s equipment procurement mistakes became tragically apparent. The engines on the sledges ceased working only days into the expedition. The ill-suited clothes resulted in his team developing frostbite. They developed snow blindness because their goggles were ill-suited to arctic conditions.

Scott reached the South Pole a month after Amundsen. But unfortunately for Scott and his team of four, they all perished on the return journey to base camp. Amundsen and his team all made it back safely. The worst problem they encountered was a toothache experienced by one team member.

There is a powerful lesson here for businesses procuring technology solutions. Context is everything and throwing money at “shiny box” solutions does not always work. You need to carefully examine factors such as:

  1. Is the new solution a genuine improvement on your existing technology enabling quicker and more efficient workflows?
  2. Is the new IT solution aligned with your current work flows?
  3. Is the solution compatible with the IT skill set of your team. Not everyone is IT savvy.
  4. Is the solution compatible with your current infrastructure? For example, many SMEs have bought expensive IT solutions which were reliant on high-speed broadband connectivity when their users in the field did not have access to a high- speed connection. Likewise, buying a Windows-centric solution when most of your users have Apple devices can be a common faux-pas.
  5. Will the solution be adopted by the users? Is it intuitive to use?
  6. How well does the solution protect your client, donor or intellectual property data?
  7. Is the solution GDPR-friendly?
  8. Does the proposed solution have genuine buy-in from your team? Having employee buy-in usually means a smoother transition and greater adoption rates.
  9. Does the solution suit your remote working team members?
  10. What redundancy does the solution offer in the event of failure?

This valiant expedition undertaken by Amundsen and Scott teaches us a very simple but profound message. The best technology solutions are those which are not the most high-tech or expensive, they are ones which are most suited to the context in which they operate.