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  • Steve Newton

The Digital EOC Regrouping – Week 4


Virtual reality image of what a digital EOC could look like
Digital EOC in Virtual Reality Environment

What an interesting week this has been. This Digital EOC project has been primarily run off the corner of my desk since the start, and will continue to be so I suspect. As near as I can tell, I’m in that transition from “aha” through “what a great idea” to “I need to get something built for people to see”. A self-realization this week has been that sometimes translating a great idea into an operational proof of concept isn’t always that easy. There can be lots of moving parts.


What I’ve come to realize is that I need to map my idea out a little bit better before bringing it to that proof of concept stage. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done a gazillion white board wire framing flow chart types of exercises and I have a reasonably clear idea where I think this Digital EOC thing can go and what it can do. But the problem is that while I may have the idea reasonably clear in my mind, others won’t always see what I see. I get that. I absolutely own my part of the communication side of that and I know where I can improve. So I’m regrouping a bit.


In my first blog I shared with you a bit about who I am and how I got to the place where I’m building a Digital EOC. I highlighted over 35 years of operational emergency management married with a passion for technology. In blog # 2 I started to explain a bit more about the start of my journey. Basically, it’s kind of a story about an old dog learning new tricks…technology tricks. In week 3 I started going into a bit of detail on some of the technologies I’ve been looking at. I described how I captured some data on a local Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) and had a virtual environment built so that we could use that to demonstrate what we think a Digital EOC can look like in a virtual or mixed reality environment. If you haven’t read Blog # 1, Blog # 2 or Blog # 3, please do so. It will give you context around where I’ve been and where I think I’m going.


Now it’s week 4 and some of the realities are starting appear. Remember, I’m on a bit of a deadline. I need to have something to show at the Natural Disasters Expo in Anaheim, California the last week of September. Prior to that, I want to have something that I can get in the hands of some of my peers so that I can get their/your guidance and feedback. So at time of writing this post that leaves me approximately 8 weeks to get all that done. It’s doable but I have to regroup a bit and get my approach a bit more focused.


I was able to put some time into thinking about this on top of other things this past weekend. Yes, it’s great to be up at the family cabin (where I was) with no connectivity or distractions except for the loons singing away at 5 AM. But the week has been a mix of running my daily consulting business, reflecting on the impacts of a key team member who want to be less involved in leading projects, responding to no less than 3 invitations to partner with some larger firms on RFP submissions on a deadline, supporting the development of a new business venture I am part of, and juggling a potential evacuation from a wildfire that is just on the south end of town not too far from where we live. So I didn’t move forward as much on this Digital EOC project as much as I would like to have, but in my world 8 weeks is a lot of time to get something done.


One conclusion I did come to is that I need to nail down the basic business practices I want to be able to engage people on for their feedback. I’m a student of best online marketing practices, which are changing daily by the way, and a couple of things tend to resonate strong with me in how I operate.


First, the notion that sloppy success is better than perfect failure. This is a prominent approach in marketing some types of products, and it basically suggests that you should get something out in front of people as soon as you can so they can engage with you on it and tell you what needs to be changed. It's tough because everyone expects a fully complete "done for you" tool when they buy something. I struggled with this one for a while let me tell you. I’m one of those types that wants to make sure everything is perfect before it gets released. For example, I will have read this blog post over probably half a dozen times before releasing it.


Second, and this is one that I absolutely have no problem with but surprisingly many people do, is the idea of giving away the “you should” and selling the “how to”. If you think about that for a moment, you will probably recognize that it is a fundamental theme in just about any successful product marketing campaign in emergency management. Just think about all those podcasts, newsletters, blog posts, and free giveaways (in exchange for your email) that are out there. They usually offer some type of value that leads you into their marketing funnel. My parents and extended family instilled in us a strong sense of helping others at the core of our personal values so I find it very easy to give away a lot of my knowledge to others at no cost. That said, I have friends and colleagues who struggle with that. They are of the mindset that any of their proprietary information or intellectual property should be sold. I, on the other hand, have spent many hours in the evenings and on weekends helping others. In fact one of my current thoughts is around how to build this first Digital EOC virtual tool so that people can access all the templates, checklists and playbooks that I am willing to give away for free. As long as it serves the greater good and some of my branding and marketing needs, this approach makes perfect sense to me for this project. More on that later.


So when I combine these two approaches for this project, I’m fine with the first sloppy success approach because I can’t think of a better way to figure this out than to get something in people’s hands to use. I can try to promote all the best most innovative ideas in the world, but that won’t get me too far. I need to build something for you folks to test drive and provide feedback on. And the “how to” piece can’t quite be sorted out until I get that feedback. I can make a pretty educated guess on what will work and what will be of interest to others, but that assumes that I think I know what you need. Not what you want. What you need.


There’s an online marketing expert by the name of Ryan Levesque who has mastered the notion of asking. More specifically, he has successfully demonstrated that if you ask people properly, they will tell you exactly what they need, exactly how they will buy it from you, and how much they are willing to spend. The same principle has to apply here or I run the risk of having put a bunch of time and money into something that is pretty cool but that isn’t useful to very many people. Hence my decision to step back for a little bit and build out some modelling around what exactly I think a digital EOC needs to look like. Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve done a bunch of flow charts and wire-framing so I have lots to work with. I will use that and some free tools to start to build out some rudimentary virtual interactive EOC environments with a few key business practices in them. That way, when it comes time to build, I will have something that has been test driven and refined through user feedback that I can take to the developers and show versus try to explain. I’ve gone down that path before on previous projects and it always takes longer.


A short example is a while back I engaged someone on Fiverr to build a website for another business that I’m involved in. It took longer than I thought because we had to go back and forth a number of times and get a couple of extensions. When all the dust settled and the website was published, I had put in over 40 hours just getting all the logos and graphics in place, content generated, when originally that was what I thought I was getting for my money. And I spent time after that updating and reformatting some things on the site after reviews by my partners. The lesson there for me was that next time, I need to go into it more prepared. I need to have an organized approach so that I get closer to what I need the end product to be after the first run at it.


So for the next week or two that is exactly what I will do, all off the corner of my desk of course. I built a virtual EOC environment a couple of years back and ran it through some of my colleagues and got favourable feedback. I’m going to blow the dust off that and see what wonderful new marvels of technology I can use to bring it back to life. What I will work towards first is developing a digital EOC virtual environment where it is intuitive to navigate and find a bunch of that “how to” stuff that I described earlier. Once I have that sorted out, I will float it out there for any of you who want to try it. I have a couple of ideas where to take it after but I will wait and see what comes of this first. I will provide you an update next week on how this is all going. I see a few late nights and weekends coming up, which I don’t mind. My wife will have something to say about that but I think we can find a balance. I also see some fun learning new technology. Somewhere in all that Unity, Blender, Sketchfab, Spatial myriad of things is my initial digital EOC model.


As always, I’m asking for your help in this. Once I get something for people to look at, I will be inviting you in to participate. I started a LinkedIn Group called DigitalEOC (all one word). I will be posting stuff there from time to time. Keep coming back to this https://www.digitaleoc.com/blog site for more updates. Once I have something worth looking at, you will be the first to know.


"Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things"

Theodore Levitt

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