15 mar. 2016

Control room operators, beware of the ‘multiple-mouse trap’

2 minutos leídos

Most people see control rooms as the pinnacle of efficiency, structure and ergonomics, and think operators are super-human professionals that have any situation under control, at any time. They guard over public safety, security, and other important stuff, so their working environment must be fantastic, right? Everybody who has ever worked in a control room, knows there are many things that can be done to optimize the working conditions.

The operator desk at the peak of inefficiency

Control room operator efficiency collaborationWhen I started as a control room operator (in the late eighties that was), the hardware was very different than what we know today. We had a big mosaic tile map board with lights to show the operational status of devices in the field, and a large bank of analog trend recorders. To control the system, there were three CRT monitors, and a custom keyboard and mouse at each operator workstation. There were even a telephone and radio set integrated into my control unit. Remember that? When I first entered the room, I thought it was the most impressive and futuristic environment I had ever seen. It didn’t take that long to notice it wasn’t all that effective.

When the next generation of digital control systems were introduced, we took a great technology leap forward. Actually, we also moved into another building, where there was a proper video wall installed. Gone was the large bank of analog trend recorders. From a very complicated desktop set-up, I went to a familiar keyboard/mouse environment, making it much easier for me to feel (and be) in total control. Or so I thought!

Situational awareness enhancements gone wrong
"So another computer landed on my desk. Then another. And another."Read our Expert's Opinion on Human Factors.

However, during that time there was also a boom in adding digital controls to the system to enhance my situational awareness. So another computer landed on my desk. Then another, and another. Strangely enough, I remember feeling quite important at first, being the first in our team to monitor multiple applications. I was even eager to have more computers installed. But it didn’t take me long to realize that the array of screens and keyboard/mouse combination made me a less efficient operator. Yes, I blindly stepped into the ‘multiple-mouse trap’.

A few years ago I got promoted to the level of senior control room operator, supervising a small team, but I still see my people struggling with the workspace. Even though we have invested in a KVM system, we are still limited to one application per monitor. And the desk real estate is huge. To make things even worse, last week upper management told me there will be another application to monitor. Now what to do? Drop another display/mouse/keyboard set on their desk?

No, I have something better. Something that not only limits the equipment on the operator's desk, but also boosts efficiency and minimizes stress.