Firefighters look at a rugged tablet mounted in their fire truck
By Bob Ashenbrenner | June 29, 2020

Don’t Fall Into the “Domain Transfer” Trap During Your Digital Transformation

Why you should seek out third-party experts, leverage peer Insights for your next mobility project.

“Domain transfer” is an interesting phenomenon, and a common psychological characteristic seen with people who, through years of education, training, and/or real-world experience, have become experts in their fields or “domains”. At the most fundamental level, “domain transfer” describes the tendency of “domain masters” – specialists ranging from astronauts to surgeons, airline pilots to successful litigators – to transfer their confidence from their specialized expertise to every aspect of their lives. They incorrectly assume that their training, skills, or track record in their domain can be widely, and successfully, applied to every situation in life. For example, I’ve talked to financial planners who have told me that doctors can be some of the worst clients. They “domain transfer” their tremendous medical skill to their finances.

One planner told me of a Saturday call with a doctor who couldn’t understand why he couldn’t deposit a check in an ATM at another bank: “If I can withdrawal, then I can deposit, right?” The planner tried explaining that ATMs at other banks will allow simple cash withdrawals, but they won’t accept deposits for another bank. The doctor never did understand. Just like sports fans often find it hard to understand why a referee made a bad call or a coach made a different decision than they would have personally made. This is a classic, if fun, case of “domain transfer” that is evident if you go to any sports bar during a game. Everybody thinks they are an expert and that they KNOW exactly what the coach should have done.

It is important to note that the domain transfer phenomenon is not exclusive to the specialists noted above. It can be found in many walks of life: top auto mechanics, makeup artists, computer designers, IT professionals, chefs, logistics managers, actuaries, and utility plant operators can all be considered domain masters who have mastered their craft after lots of training, education and practice. These professionals generally have an admirable confidence about them, which they have rightfully earned in the course of their professional development. (It is truly amazing how much they know and the consistency with which they generate excellent results in their specialized domain. Most “civilians” would not know how to begin doing those jobs.) However, attempting to transfer their domain expertise to other domains can become an occupational and organizational hazard.

Many professionals get trapped thinking that their expertise is innate; that somehow because of their above-average skill set that they are naturally masters of other fields. Do not fall for this “domain transfer” trap. Especially when it comes to mission-critical business decisions, such as how to design or deploy workforce mobility solutions that, at the end of the day, require the guidance of technical domain masters to execute.

I realize that asking for help may not come naturally to many people, especially domain masters or those that have “been there, done that” when it comes to implementing digital technologies. However, the reality is that even “experts” sometimes have to rely on the focused expertise of domain masters in other fields – such as mobility solution architects – to minimize the risks associated with large-scale digital transformation initiatives or to successfully achieve mobility goals with minimal disruption to workers and workflows.

Want to Avert “Domain Transfer” During Your Organization’s Digital Transformation? Take a Beat from Public Safety Professionals

Public safety professionals are a prime, and rare, example of how domain masters can and should effectively tap into third-party resources to garner desired outcomes. Firefighters and other first responders are highly trained, have a wealth of experience and consistently yield impressive results in often impossible situations. We are all far safer because of their relentless dedication and training. Yet they do not tend to exhibit domain transference when it comes to sourcing and implementing new technologies, even though they would know better than anyone else whether or not certain technologies are well-suited for their highly-specialized operating environments.

While I am not claiming that they have superhuman traits, I do believe that public safety agencies do a phenomenal job of working with other agencies cooperatively, not competitively. This is particularly true when it comes to understanding best practices and identifying the best mobile technology solutions for their shared domain. A couple of years ago, I attended a public safety conference that drew over 7,000 attendees to see 750 exhibits. Unlike other industries’ tradeshows where organizations withhold information from one another, treating them as trade secrets and a source of competitive advantage, public safety officers openly discussed successes and failures with their colleagues. Most purchases of capital equipment such as mobile technology solutions, are public information and widely disclosed by default of public sector transparency requirements. But I do not believe that is the primary reason why fire and rescue chiefs are so open and honest about their digital transformation initiatives.

Since public safety professionals such as firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) are focused on, well “public safety,” it would be unconscionable to withhold a better technique or method from industry peers. They want to make sure that every other public safety professional is aware of new technologies that could save lives and protect the safety of fellow first responders.

Public safety officers are always talking to peers in other jurisdictions, asking how they do things, what worked, what didn’t. For many of the 750 private sector exhibitors at the tradeshow, the focus wasn’t on “speeds and feeds” or their products’ specs. Rather, they demonstrated real-world applications. Name-dropping which fire departments they work with, for example, and sharing very specific use cases and success stories are common and necessary – s, though very rare outside the public safety arena due to the “domain transfer” phenomena and the fear of losing a competitive edge.

Experienced technology solution providers understand this. They work with customers to publish case studies that describe in detail which technologies were deployed in various situations; how they conducted solution testing, evaluation and refinement; and why their deployments have been so successful.

For example, Zebra has collaborated with Battalion 3 (BATT3) to showcase the overwhelming market acceptance, and immediate success, of their industry-first all-digital command, control and accountability solution for emergency response.

In case you didn’t know, North American firefighters have been using pen, paper, dry erase boards and other similar “manual” methods to track their crews’ movements during calls for the last 200 years. Though passport tags were created about 20 years ago with the goal of improving accountability efforts, they often prove unreliable.  Ad hoc and paper-based tracking of who, when and where these public safety assets are on the scene are not up to task of coordinating the best response, and relying on Velcro uniform attachments that are known to fall off (or that are never turned in by crew members before entering the scene) can be downright dangerous. Incident commanders need to know the location of responders on site. They also need a better way to comply with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) requirements for firefighter rehab during emergencies and training. Battalion 3’s solution was to create Incident Command and Fire Roster software that runs on the Zebra R12 XSLATE™ rugged tablet. This simple, yet effective, technology solution has enabled public safety agencies across the United States to increase the accuracy of emergency response tracking, reduce safety risks, and streamlines command and control processes amidst often chaotic scenes.

However, the reason this game-changing (and life-saving) solution has made such a fast impact nationwide is because of the open cooperation and knowledge-sharing that occurs in the public safety agency. In fact, the rugged tablet-powered BATT3 incident management system is so effective, Chief Pat Riley of the Northern Lakes Fire District in Idaho advocates for it every chance he gets, especially when traveling to conferences and industry gatherings where he has the attention of other fire chiefs across the country. It is the best way to advance the mission of protecting the public while minimizing risk to the professionals. It is also the most effective way to ensure his peers don’t fall for the domain transfer trap – especially those that may be wary of technology, and technology providers, to start.

Why People are Talking about BATT3

The Zebra-BATT3 solution minimizes the risk of firefighter mayday. Every time a firefighter is dispatched from the command center, the ICx software’s clock is turned on and the indicator next to their name turns green – similar to how the unit/engine tracker works. After 10 minutes, each crew member’s indicator will turn yellow and automatically trigger a roll call. The command center can then call back personnel as deemed necessary using the integrated Spillman CAD program, which eliminates the previously time-consuming manual call-back method.


“This automatic notification built into the tablet-based solution can literally save lives by preventing burnout, exhaustion and oversight. It finally enables us to maintain that frequent role call cadence for accountability. No other current tech or system can do this, not even the Passport tags.”

~ Chief Pat Riley, Northern Lakes Fire District, Idaho


At the end of the day, whether you operate in a competitive or cooperative industry, it is essential that you seek out the advice of some third party – whether it is your peers, solution providers, or even partners. Understand what works and what doesn’t. Not everything has to be a “trade secret.” If nothing else, soliciting input from other industry leaders will prevent you from making the same mistakes that they have made. But I can almost guarantee that, if you follow the lead of public safety professionals and make it a best practice to look to technology domain experts for guidance, then you will more successfully advance personally and as an organization in your own domain.


Editor’s Note:

Check out these videos for more examples of how public safety has successfully avoided the “domain transfer” trap – and successfully executed their digital transformation strategies as a result:

Energy and Utilities, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Warehouse and Distribution, Innovative Ideas, Transportation and Logistics, Field Operations, Public Sector,
Bob Ashenbrenner
Bob Ashenbrenner

Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC, under the direction of Bob Ashenbrenner, works with Zebra Technologies to develop future-proof mobility solutions for customers across multiple field service and industrial sectors. As an industry consultant, Durable Mobility Technologies, LLC, is focused on optimizing rugged tablet-based solutions for mobile workers of all kinds, including utility and public safety professionals. Ashenbrenner is particularly committed to helping customers identify mobile devices that survive a tough work day, run all the software and tools needed today, and will remain flexible and scalable to adapt to evolving technology applications as business needs dictate.

Ashenbrenner has more than 25 years of computer engineering and engineering management experience, with 18 of those specific to mobility and the field requirements that enable real work to happen. He was previously a Solutions Architect with Xplore Technologies and Motion Computing for 13 years. In that role, Ashenbrenner led the development of a suite of rugged mobile tablet computer, services and software, with an emphasis on supporting the whole mobile work environment.

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