IT Failure: Some Ideas Deserve a Second Chance

The secret behind many innovations is trying until you succeed -- a concept Iridium Communications knows a lot about. Here's what you can learn from them and why your company should consider this important mantra.

Great ideas in IT, from ERP to CRM to cloud computing, virtualization and more, happen all the time, but they don't always rise to the surface.

Often they crash and burn and have to start all over again.

But I bet that those are the ones that we truly remember — the ideas that continue to bounce back until somehow, in some way, through persistence, drive and refusal to accept defeat that they're finally able to succeed and thrive.

That's why I smiled when I read a news story last week about Iridium Communications in The Wall Street Journal, describing the company's latest tech idea — using satellite communications to help guide airliners as they fly over the Earth's expansive oceans and polar regions.

Back in 2001, I first wrote about Iridium, when it was called Iridium Satellite. In those heady days of the modern-day tech sector, the original Iridium got its start in 1998 and was crazy enough to try to attract everyday consumers to use its space age satellite-based phone communications system. That idea failed because the service was too expensive and the phones were too bulky back then.

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But the idea still lingered.

Even the bankruptcy of the original Iridium in 2000 didn't bury the concept. In 2001, the 66-satellite system, which was built originally for $5 billion, was sold for a mere $25 million to new owners by a bankruptcy court. That's when the company changed names and decided to target a wider group of potential customers with their satellite communications ideas.

This time they aimed more toward business users, especially those in remote locations, such as construction workers, where other communications methods were often literally impossible. One key early user in 2000 was the U.S. Department of Defense which signed a two-year, $72 million contract to obtain secure wireless communications for about 20,000 government employees.

Five years later, Iridium began targeting its satellite-based communications toward emergency response workers around the world who needed immediate and reliable communications in the event of natural disasters and other crises. The system was interoperable with existing VHF and UHF radio communications systems, making it even more flexible for users. That idea got more traction, but Iridium still wasn't taking over the communications world.

Still they weren't giving up, even though by then the mass marketing of cell phones had arrived and flooded the global communications marketplace with relatively cheap and easy to acquire cell phones.

Now let's fast-forward to today.

Iridium is still here and kicking and now they have another new idea, which just won regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The new market Iridium is targeting will use the satellite network to help guide airliners over the world's oceans and North and South Poles with better communications and accuracy, while helping airlines to save fuel, reduce emissions and increase passenger safety.

The FAA approval represents "an important interim step toward international cooperation on satellite-based air-traffic-control networks" that will revolutionize the existing air traffic control system," according to The Wall Street Journal story.

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