by Laura Jane Burgess
Shuffling paperwork, missing signatures, and problematic postal services: with so many moving parts issuing UPT Tandem rating cards has been a time-consuming process. Key word: has. United Parachute Technologies has led the charge in gear manufacturing for many years, and now, it’s leading the way into the digital age of issuing tandem ratings.
We spoke with the director of UPT’s Tandem Program, Tom Noonan, to get details on the exciting partnership between UPT and Sigma.
For those of you out there unfamiliar with Tom Noonan, Tom made his first skydive in 1999, and in the nearly 20 years since then, has acquired around 8000 skydives—6,500-7,000 of which are skydives with him as either the tandem instructor or passenger training someone to be an instructor!
Having previously worked for Strong Enterprises and Performance Designs, Tom is now in his sixth year of employment with UPT working as their Tandem Program Director.
How Sigma Entered The Picture
Tom met Dylan Avatar of Sigma when he presented their Merit issuing platform to the USPA board several years ago. At the time Tom was on the USPA Board of Directors and had a front seat during USPA’s adoption of Sigma to issue licenses and ratings digitally as Merits.
“USPA’s success with [Sigma] with their membership of 40,000 people gave UPT a comfort level that Sigma could handle the…8-10,000 instructors around the world and 400-500 examiners (current or past) or national federation safety officers who we work with. After seeing that the USPA database migration and subsequent user interface was successful, I had high confidence that we would be able to do the same thing on our side with the tandem ratings we issue.”
Why did UPT elect to move forward with Sigma?
After a slight pause, Tom kiddingly replies “[Sigma] gave us free t-shirts…No the real reason/the tipping point for us was when Dylan met with Sheryl Bothwell, our Office Administrator, who is in charge of the rating issuance. Dylan was able to sit down and demonstrate the portal and the process and show how efficient it was going to be from the front office side, and that was really the “closer.”
How Sigma Will Help
What problems/pain points will Sigma solve for UPT as it relates to issuing ratings?
Without hesitation, Tom responds “international delivery.”
“We probably have 30-40% of our users that are international, which means we’re sending out anywhere from 200-400 international rating cards each year, and we’ve been doing it… as an analog process (postal) in a digital world.”
Issues with international delivery were multifaceted: “Our international mailing was incredibly problematic. One in that the customer often didn’t receive their card in a timely manner or other times they didn’t receive it at all. It doubled and even sometimes tripled our workload to reproduce these again and again. From a cost perspective, while it wasn’t happening every day, it became more and more of a cost issue and a workflow problem. We were spending too much time re-issuing ratings that otherwise could be digitally accessible.”
While forgery or someone misrepresenting their ability hasn’t really been the problem, Tom says “there has been an issue with candidates finishing the training process, and their rating application ending up in limbo somewhere, due to application correction issues.”
“Individuals were going through courses and filling out the appropriate paperwork, which was then sent in. The problem was typically a mistake made on the paperwork. Either the examiner or the instructor failed to sign a necessary line on the log book or were missing a witness signature. Attempts to get additional information in from our instructors, in that capacity, can be challenging at times. So, someone will finish a course and have a paperwork problem, and whether they ignore it or neglect it, then they and the dropzone are missing confirmation that the rating has been issued. The adoption of Sigma’s platform will hopefully facilitate an easier remedy for the drop zone owner and the instructor to know for sure that they have their rating and that it has been issued.”
Will UPT continue to mail out hard copy cards or do they anticipate phasing these out?
For those of you looking to garner UPT tandem ratings in the future, physical cards will be offered as an “a la carte” option and only ad hoc as requested.
“We will always provide them for the customer if requested to do so. There are people that have always wanted the tactile experience, to have a driver’s license in their pocket or a pilot’s certificate in hand, so we can always provide that. But now that we have the digital format, the workflow on [physical cards issued] will be less than 10%. But for that 10%, we will format the cost as shipping and a small processing/maintenance fee of $10.”
What about Sigma excites UPT the most?
“UPT’s front office is thrilled at the implementation of Sigma issued Merits for UPT tandem ratings. The excitement, in part, comes down to reduced workflow. And any time, we can reduce workflow, we can be more efficient, and if we are more efficient, we can then do more things for the customer and for the instructors. We’d rather spend our time thinking about ways to improve the process…and having more time to do that because we are spending less time dealing with processing issues and mailing ratings. It gives us more time to focus on other parts of the rating application process.”
Looking to the Future
Tom sees two potentials for further utilizing Sigma in the future: “one is going to be once the system is in place and running smoothly, we are going to look to use the Sigma platform to institute a hand cam proficiency Merit.”
This will ensure instructors have “met the 200 tandem jump minimum, they have filled out our proficiency checklist, and sent it into us. First, before they start using hand cam and every two years as they renew, and two, so [drop zones] will be able to track [instructors] hand cam currency as a Merit.”
Within the next two years, Tom and UPT are hoping to roll out “some form of a bi-annual review [for tandem instructors] that can be updated, whether it’s a proficiency card or a practical evaluation with an examiner—we haven’t hashed any of that out. But we’ve recognized there is a need to implement something similar to what pilots go through, where every two years the instructors need to validate their credentials. This can absolutely be an additional future merit that would end up living in the Sigma database”
Tom even had an idea for how Dropzones could further utilize the Sigma platform and Merits.
“I could foresee Dropzone Owners taking advantage of a Camera Flyer Merit, where it’s simply a qualification card that they are validating they have met the minimum requirements 500 RW jumps 100 camera jumps as one example, so when they have people flying video with their tandem instructors, they have some kind of validation that they have met the minimums”
The practical takeaway here?
These measures and issued Merits are a “liability prevention mechanism for everyone involved in the tandem jump process…making sure you have met those credential verifications only helps assure you have better liability protection in case of an incident or accident”
Well put Tom, well put.