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Tribute to Steve Jobs: The DOD Industry could learn a few things from him and Apple


The majority of current DOD technology providers deliver "soulless", "ruggedized" green boxes that when finally released to the Warfighter, four years post contract, house outdated technology at 10-100X the cost of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) items. Not exactly how I want my own tax dollars used. As a former Warfighter nothing is more frustrating then getting your hands on kit that is outdated and not engineered with end users in mind, the latter being a HUGE problem in my opinion.

From The New York Times

"DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO DELIGHT CUSTOMERS Six weeks before the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, Mr. Jobs ordered a crucial design change. Until then, the planning for supplies, manufacturing and engineering had been based on the assumption that the smartphone’s face would be plastic, recalls Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive who led iPod and iPhone development from 2001 to 2009. Plastic is less fragile than glass, and easier to make.

But the plastic touch screen had a drawback. It was prone to developing scratches. Those scratches, Mr. Jobs insisted, would irritate users and be seen as a design flaw. “All the logical facts told us to go with plastic, and Steve’s instinct went the other way,” Mr. Fadell says. “It was Steve’s call — his gut.”

The glass choice was a challenge that seemed “nearly impossible” at the time, he says — a last-minute scramble to get supplies of specialized glass and tweak the design of the phone’s casing to reduce the chances the glass would crack when an iPhone was dropped. But with extra investment and a frenetic work regimen, the switch proved doable, despite the tight deadline.

The episode, Mr. Fadell says, points to a principle he took away from his years working with Mr. Jobs. “You do not cut corners and you make sure the customer gets an experience that is an absolute delight,” observes Mr. Fadell, who heads a Silicon Valley start-up company whose product has not yet been disclosed and will not compete with Apple."

Essential Writing Kit: My MacBook Pro

Anyone that manufactures technology for the Defense market could learn a lot from Jobs's and Apple.  The DoD industry at large is prone to making decisions more focused on saving pennies then what's ultimately good for the Warfighter.  If the industry were to follow Apple's example I predict that they would win the hearts and minds of the Warfighter and this would ultimately deliver more contracts and much larger profits in the future.  After all, I'm a capitalist at heart but I do share the Jobs's ethic of taking care of the customer first and foremost.  I still have hope that a DoD version of Jobs's Apple emerges from the mist of mediocrity.  There are a few companies out there bucking the system and focusing on the Warfighter such as London Bridge Trading Company, SureFire, General Atomics (The Predator Drone was built in the face of a skeptical DoD), Divisions of L-3 (not all), Crye Precision and SOFCOAST. I know there are a few others out there but these cover a wide range and come to mind quickly.

I fought off the switch to Apple for years until one particularly sharp SEAL technophile buddy of mine, "Arty", finally convinced me to buy my first Apple product, a Mac Pro.  Arty has since disappeared into OGA service but hopefully I will see him again one day to thank him for his diligence.  I couldn't believe how damn useful and intuitive my first Apple computer was and after 6-months I've never looked back and have since been a loyal fan of all things Apple. The IT guys at our command used to actually joke and say if we switched to Apple products that they would be out of a job....somehow I believe them.

The lesson here for DoD contractors is an easy one.  "Do whatever it takes to put the Warfighter's needs first".

I'd have you on my fire team any day Steve, see you on the other side brother.


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