by Garrett Hill, CEO, X2nSat, Inc.
Lazy writing started with that thrilling and epic medieval poem, written in Old English somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries – the infamous Beowulf.
Full of medieval text shortcuts very much like the texting shortcuts we use today (OMG!, LOL!), the story of Beowulf features him slaying the infamous beast, Grendel. Grendel was not very nice and needing slaying; he pretty much kills and eats anyone he encounters.
Jargon, acronyms, shortcuts and nomenclature-speak in the satellite industry remind me of this literary monster. If you think about it, they create barriers that are in complete opposition to our goals as purveyors of communications solutions, hence my Grendel analogy.
Most of us in the business world are guilty of it. Speaking and writing in acronyms and using industry-specific jargon provide us with a communication shorthand. We even bond over “private” jokes using acronyms only we understand. Personally, I do my best to avoid doing this, although I sometimes fail; there are so many used in the satellite communications industry as a whole – as well as within my own company – that they become subconsciously ingrained in daily conversation.
My main objection to the use and over-use of speaking in acronyms and shortcuts is that it’s not typically done to make communication more efficient, but is more often used to impress people with one’s superior knowledge.
We struggle in this industry with ensuring that our potential clients truly understand the solution we’re offering, and the use of acronyms can be counter to our goal of making satellite “easy.” If you talk to customers and the users of our technology in a language they don’t understand, it doesn’t make them want to do business with you. No one wants to feel stupid.
Here’s just a short list of industry and company-specific acronyms and shorthand – and, to be nice, I’m including definitions after them. (I wouldn’t want Grendel coming after me.)
This is one of my favorite legacy acronyms; pronounced “vee-sat,” it is thrown around daily in the satellite world and was probably coined in the 1980s. Technically, it just means “Very Small Aperture Terminal.” So the question is – what does “very small” mean in 1980? What does it mean now? The consensus would be that X2nSat is considered a VSAT operator, but most people don’t really understand what that means. According to the Wikipedia definition: “A very small aperture terminal (VSAT), is a two-way satellite ground station or a stabilized maritime VSAT antenna with a dish antenna that is smaller than 3 meters. VSATs access satellites in geosynchronous orbit to relay data from small remote earth stations (terminals) to other terminals or master earth station “hubs.” VSATs are used to transmit narrowband data (e.g., point-of-sale transactions using credit cards, polling or RFID data, or SCADA), or broadband data (for the provision of satellite Internet access to remote locations, VoIP or video). VSATs are also used for transportable, on-the-move (utilizing phased array antennas) or mobile maritime communications.” To me, “very small” isn’t a literal thing; it’s a marketing thing. In the 1980s, satellite dishes were 8’-wide in the backyard, and so as the size and efficiency evolved, so did the name. But ask yourself – does the end user really care what it’s called?
This acronym is an example of another difficulty posed by speaking in acronyms; it sounds like an actual word, which is really confusing to someone who has never seen it in print. My attempt at humor in the headline of this post is that you would read it: “Scared of” (SCADA) the right word?” OK, maybe I’m reaching it for it with that one, but you get the idea. So what does it mean? Technically, “Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition.” Who wouldn’t want that, right? With operational costs competitive with traditional land-line infrastructure due to the low data throughput required for M2M (which means “Machine to Machine”; there’s another shorthand phrase for you) terminals, satellite is the communication system of choice for power generation companies, enterprises and many other organizations with narrowband data requirements. Here at X2nSat we manage thousands of SCADA sites all over the world. SCADA is a critical component to remotely monitor, control and manage the continuity and quality of industrial facilities in various sites. Evolving with the technological leaps of the last quarter century, SCADA systems now have multiple uses for all kinds of organizations, including continuous monitoring and control of remote sites, automation, upstream oil and gas mining, hydraulic measurement, tower management, utility SmartMeter back-haul and much more.
This triumvirate refers to: Low Earth Orbit, Medium Earth Orbit, and Geostationery Orbit. The following simple overview is taken from the Visual Satellite Observer online: “Satellite orbits are “grouped” into general categories because a major characteristic of a particular orbit in the “group” produces a highly desired ground track or an aspect of the orbit, which is needed to accomplish the main purpose of the satellite. In general, a satellite orbit gives rise to particular desirable ground track. For example, a communications satellite needs to stay where it can always be seen from the ground, a weather satellite needs to view the earth with the sun in the same relative position every time the satellite passes over a country. Thus, a satellite is placed in an orbit, which capitalizes on an aspect of the orbit which helps the satellite meet its mission, be that scientific, military, or commercial.”
What I am suggesting to my colleagues in the industry is this: Spend more energy on the end-user experience that’s required. When speaking with our customers, talk about that experience instead of trying to impress (aka, confuse!) them with a bunch of techno-babble they don’t understand. Of course, there are some users out there that speak this language and want to know the details, but that audience is “very small” relative to the real market size for our kind of services.
So if the true end user is someone watching a security video monitor of a job site, then think about that person. All that matters is that he or she can watch the video, right? It needs to work, and that’s all people really care about, when you get down to it. The purchasing person, the IT person, the other decision-makers are focused on the needs of the person who needs to watch the video. So that should be our focus, too.
Our issue is one of a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’ve convinced our customers they need to be satellite experts so they don’t tell us what they want done, they just order. We need to become solution-oriented problem-solvers versus just selling a commodity and letting them figure it out.
If you’re reading this article and feel like you just don’t understand the satellite industry AT ALL, let alone from an acronym point of view, then I strongly recommend taking a gander through this fantastic resource provided by the Satellite Industry Association (SIA), it’s a PDF presentation titled “Satellite 101,” and it clearly covers satellite technology, services and definitions.
Or if you lack motivation for that level of education, you could wait for my next blog post explaining how satellites work and for now just watch a movie instead. Angelina Jolie adds a sharp visual contrast to the hideous Grendel in Robert Zemeckis’ 2007 film adaptation of Beowulf. Just be on the lookout for any medieval jargon.
PHOTO CREDITS: X2nSat antennae at the Petaluma, California, hub by Jayson Carpenter Photography, and image of Beowulf from Public Domain Super Heroes online.