Stop tech-driven problem-solving

A new and exciting piece of Software technology comes out. It’s slick and shiny, and it promises to do something that was never before thought possible. It’s revolutionary and everyone talks about it.

And then nothing happens.

Well, that’s of course not completely true. Meetups and hackathons are organized. Online courses are created. Articles are written, speakers speak and tinkerers tinker. Everyone tells each other how great the piece of tech is, how this and that are great use cases, and that it’s a matter of time before it changes the world as we know it.

But, crucially, there’s nobody building anything that is actually being used. Sure, there are some applications here and there that look like they are fun and perhaps even promising. But it’s far from the immense potential that was foretold. They are toys in a world of hurricanes.

Regardless, a very interesting thing starts to happen. Because of all the hype that is created, organizations get convinced that the world is changing. And of course, they don’t want to be left behind. However, they don’t really understand the technology yet, because it’s complex stuff, of course. So they start investigating whether this technology can solve their problems. They set up working groups and contract “specialists” (whose qualification is all too often merely speaking about the technology and its potential, not actually applying it towards solving a real problem), to find out where and how the technology could change their way of doing business. They spend a whole lot of time and money to figure out what problem they could solve with the tech, while they should be focusing on solving the actual problems that they are having. Because the chances are very good that those problems could be solved using technology that we’ve had for years.

Examples

Let me give you a concrete example: Blockchain. The next big thing. A game changer. The biggest new technology since the Internet. However, nobody has any use case that needs a distributed consensus on a public ledger, except for Bitcoin / virtual currency that is. Most, if not all problems that can be solved with a blockchain, can be solved more efficiently with existing technology.

None of this has stopped a Dutch organization for municipalities to investigate how to apply Blockchain to make it easier for handicapped people to get a parking card (link in Dutch).

Seriously, what?

And this isn’t the only organization. I’ve read about a lot more organizations that try to solve mundane problems with a Blockchain. They start to change and perverse the concepts to fit into their niche, they talk about “private blockchains” and specialized coins, while instead, they could just call any Software Engineer worth its salt and he would solve their problem, without unnecessarily added technologies.

He who controls the data, controls a whole lot of nothing.

Another example: Big data, or more concretely, Hadoop and MapReduce. As we’ve all heard, he who controls the data, controls the universe. The entire business plan of a ton of companies, especially those that try to “evolve” or “stay current”, is based on gathering as much data as they can to create value. So they set up these huge data clusters based on Hadoop and write complex MapReduce queries for basic operations, and wait for the spice to flow.

But there’s no end game. When asked, there’s no vision on what to do with the data that will actually make money. In fact, hardly anyone realizes what a huge liability all this data is, regarding the costs of managing it and the privacy and security concerns. Data is a very tough thing to earn money with. When you do it right, it’s worth a ton, but it’s very easy to get wrong. As they say, it doesn’t matter how much data you have, it matters what you do with it.

Wrapping up

Most of the problems and visions organizations have right now regarding software can be solved by the application of existing, boring, simple technology. Regardless of who you are and how big you are, the blockchain is overrated. Big data and their related technology and tools are hardly ever needed. You aren’t Google, or Facebook, or Amazon, so your data won’t be big enough. And if you do have data, you most likely won’t know what to do with it anyway. And while the Internet of Things as an idea is beautiful, it’s just a term; connected sensors and actuators have existed for decades.

Instead, employ problem-driven problem-solving. Focus on the problems your organization has. What could it do better, what could be easier? Or work out your vision: What could your organization do that it doesn’t do now, and what do you want it to do. Then contact a specialist who has helped companies do better through the use of technology, and have them help you. If they’re any good, they’ll focus on your problem or vision. They won’t push a technology. They’ll talk to you about your organization, and about the steps it can make to become more than it is.

And then they’ll let the technology follow you.