Are we Entering the "act and live with the consequences" Era?

Author: Marco C. Janssen, UTInnovation, the Netherlands

After Bitcoin and other crypto currencies, it appears that Blockchain is the next hype to shake our world. Every day new articles are published on how great and versatile Blockhain is and how it is going to change our world.
I am not arguing about the technology behind Blockchain and its potential use cases in many different domains, including the utility industry, but the way it is being pushed appears to me as if it is a solution looking for a problem to solve to justify its existence.
I was taught that automation for the sake of automation is often not a good idea and that it is much better to define the actual problem we are trying to solve, create the use case, do the business case for that use case, investigate the possible technical solutions, evaluate the different alternatives and then take a decision on the way forward.
The way things are going now makes me think that we are often rushing into implementing solutions without even considering what it is that we are trying to solve, and from a holistic perspective without analyzing whether the chosen solution serves more than a single purpose.

I acknowledge that times have changed, and that the pace at which technology and business evolves is much faster than when I was young, but I still believe that a “think before you act” is a much better strategy than “act and then live with the consequences” approach.
If you are using a machine gun to try to kill a mosquito there is of course a chance that you will eventually hit the mosquito if you fire enough rounds, however looking at the other options available to kill a mosquito will very likely lead you to choose another, more efficient, less costly and more adequate solution to solve your mosquito problem.

There are of course a few things that we will have to accept if we adopt the “think before we act” approach.

  • First, we need to allow ourselves to think, and thinking takes time. So, we should start by allowing ourselves to spend time to define the actual problem we are trying to solve and then follow a process for all the other activities leading to a well-defined decision
  • Second, we need to accept that not every problem requires a new solution. It may very well be that existing solutions can provide a solution, which in most cases is more efficient, faster and more cost effective
  • Third, we should accept that not everything has to be automated. Humans are very capable of executing many tasks and it is not guaranteed that machines, including computers, will always do a better job

Before assuming that such a process will slow down economic and technological developments, please consider the time required following a “try and error“ approach, continuously having to correct your mistakes and implement several solutions before reaching the optimal one. I am not saying that we should not try and learn from our errors, but I do believe that even the “try and error” process should be based on a thought process in which first options and consequences are considered before trying a new solution.

So, if we can combine the “think before we act” with the “try and error” approach we can maintain the high speed at which we advance yet avoid trying too many possible solutions before we find the best one to solve our problem in a cost-effective way.

Marco C. Janssen is the CEO of UTInnovation LLC and the Director of the Smart Grid PMO at the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority. He received his BSc degree in Electrical Engineering from the Polytechnic in Arnhem, Netherlands and has worked for over 27 years in the field of Smart Grid, Protection, Control, Monitoring, Advanced Metering Infrastructures, Distribution and Substation Automation. He was a member of IEC TC57 WG 10, 17, 18, 19, the IEEE PES PSRC and CIGRE B5 and D2 WGs. He was the convenor of D2.35 and editor of the Quality Assurance Program for the Testing Subcommittee of the UCA International Users Group. He holds one patent, has authored more than 58 papers, is co-author of four Cigre Technical Brochures and two books on Smart Grids and Electrical Power Substations Engineering and is the author of the “I Think” column in the PAC World magazine.