I like technology. I spend far too much money on it, and I am convinced it makes my life better, which isn’t always true. Technology brings with it a world of possibility, sometimes without any of the pragmatism.
I’ll give you a real-world example. I did, for some time (about a week), genuinely think that using Alexa to turn off my lights was a revelation, despite the fact that:-
- I have a perfectly good solution in the first place – a light switch!
- I have to manually switch all the lights ON PERMANENTLY so that the bulbs work (if you turn the light switches off Alexa can’t see them).
- My family are far too practical and revert to the manual method. Therefore, I have to go around the house switching the light switches ON again, so that I can tell Alexa to turn them OFF again.
In my search for a system to turn the lights on and off, it turns out I already had a pretty good one.
Despite the fact it takes longer to tell Alexa to turn the lights off than it does to use the switch, I was convinced it was a better solution because it uses newer technology.
A common example of a solution looking for a problem?!
In my work life, I’m a constant note taker. A pencil (not a pen) and a notebook aren’t ever far away from me. The process of writing down words and using diagrams to illustrate something are incredibly powerful tools. So powerful in fact that, for a while, I was convinced I was going to buy an iPad Pro (other tablets are available) with a new Apple Pencil to “digitise” my note taking.
I concluded, after spending half an hour of my life looking at reviews on YouTube, that digitising the note taking experience wouldn’t actually improve anything. In fact, it would introduce a number of additional problems.
For one – my physical notebook never runs out of power, it never needs updating, and it is generally lighter and smaller than most digital alternatives. Also, all the pencils I’ve tried are 100% compatible with it.
As it turns out I have a pretty good solution for replicating the feel of physically writing down notes…… It’s a pencil and paper!
In the world of work, I believe we face similar temptations. I’ve been lucky enough to have been working in and around Internet of Things (IoT) for the last couple of years. One aspect of the whole IoT debate continues to be a challenge – how you demonstrate value for the required investment.
It’s easy to get distracted by the technology headlines around 5G, Big Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. Interestingly, messaging around social inclusion, assistive technology for outpatient care, improving yields in agriculture and saving taxpayers money doesn’t seem to be as popular with the technology companies. Technology often leads the messaging rather than the outcome!.
Specifically, within IoT, the propensity of technology led messaging can be a significant interference factor if you have a genuine problem to solve. In my experience starting at the end – the outcome (note taking, turning off the lights), and working backwards into the technology requirements to support it, is key. To do anything else represents a risk in which a capability is built that no longer supports the initial deliverable; but if committed, one which must be changed and modified to deliver some part of the initial brief.
I recently attended a meeting with a customer who were interested in LoRaWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network). LoRaWAN is a communications technology designed for long range, low power data applications (meter readings, car park occupancy, etc..) to communicate. They identified a number of outcomes they wanted to achieve and selected LoRaWAN as the communications product of choice to fit the deliverables. Their approach here was correct, working backwards from the outcome to find the best technology solution. As a business, we’re incredibly excited to be part of their journey.
Anything is possible with technology. As digital enthusiasts, we constantly push the boundaries of the possible – fueling our desire to make life easier, and the world a better place. But let’s take the time to understand the real problems and challenges and work back from there, rather than defaulting to letting the “latest and greatest” technology provide solutions for problems we might not have!
Written by Darren Hogan, Product Director – August 2019