Saturday, April 10, 2010

Zen and the art of navigation integration. It could have been better!

I think there is a natural tendency for most people to do what they are most comfortable with, and electronics system installers are no different. Clients who specify what equipment they want, also have this tendency, but with an important difference, they are paying for it. By the way, my three rules of sales are, the customer is alway right as long as they have a check, the bigger the check, the righter they are, and you can't fall off the floor. The point is that we all often resist change. If you have been using Furuno gear on your boats for years, and you buy a new boat, you will most likely want to put new Furuno gear on it. There are benefits to this approach, such as a quick learning curve and personal comfort with the system. The liability here is maybe there is something better, and you have stopped looking hard at other options. By the way, I mean no slight to Furuno, I could have said Raymarine, or Garmin. It's just an example. As an installer I work hard to avoid this sense of  "staying in my comfort zone", and I try to deliver well integrated systems. I also love early tech adopters, it keeps my "comfort zone" large, although sometimes I tear my hair out dealing with the "bleeding edge of technology".

I was recently asked to quote a system for a new vessel, and a bill of materiels was e-mailed to me. I looked at the list, and it seemed very similar to a system I had done earlier, but located in a sea of Garmin equipment, at the bottom of the list was a Simrad autopilot. I revised the list, and changed the Simrad autopilot to a Garmin unit, and sent the quote back. The organization later decided to use an internal group to do the install, and the Garmin pilot was deleted, and the Simrad unit was put back in. When I asked why the Simrad pilot was being used, the hearsay response from the installer group was that "Simrad was the first autopilot approved for use with Verado engines, and it is the best". Funny I thought, I was pretty sure that Nautimatic (now Garmin) was the first, and I certainly installed a lot of them. If anyone knows the answer, let me know. What I think was really going on here was this group had traditionally installed a lot of the Simrad autopilots, and it was in their "comfort zone". 

When marine electronics companies design new products, their first priority is to make sure it integrates as well as possible into their own product line, and it often includes additional features you won't get using the industry standard interfaces. They do this to make their products more attractive to the clients. The secondary priority is to provide industry standard interfaces to talk to other equipment vendors. In this case, the Simrad autopilot will properly talk to the Garmin system, and it will work well. But if the Garmin autopilot was used, the integration would have been better, because it was designed specifically to work better. The moral of the story is that in general, integration is better, if all of the pieces come from the same vendor, if possible. You have a Raymarine based system, use the Raymarine autopilot. When things go awry, the tech support all comes from one place, and there is no finger pointing. So in the picture above, in the lower left hand corner, there is the Simrad autopilot. It will work well, I just think it wasn't giving the client the best possible solution.                        

A final footnote to the story is that each of the Garmin 5215 units came with a N2K GPS. You can have multiple N2K GPS's in a Garmin system. You just point the system at the unit to use. If one fails,  just tell the system to use the other one. Redundancy is a beautiful thing. So up on the hardtop, I see a GMX51 weather receiver  (forward), and and only one, of the two included GPS engines was installed. I just wonder if this was out of their comfort zone also.