MySay: Ask the right question to get the right answer

One of the traits of a nonconformist is the propensity to do things uniquely better and not merely follow the majority or established practices. Just because most people do things in a certain manner, it does not mean that it is the best and the only way. Exploring the ways to solve a problem requires the right thought process, and to get this process right, we must ask the right questions.

This is one of my strong beliefs. Asking the right question will give us a chance to get the right answer. But if we ask the wrong question, we will definitely get the wrong answer.

Let me give you an example. Much has been said about the issue of world hunger. To help solve this issue, a related world agency like World Relief may ask, “What is the one food that many people like to eat?” If the reply is curry, then the solution that might be proposed could be a “Global Curry Plan”.

With this presented as the solution, the behaviour that ensues will be centred around curry; “What sort of curry do we cook? Chicken curry or beef curry? How do we cook the curry?”

Lest we forget, not everyone enjoys curry. By asking the wrong question in the first place, even inadvertently, and then limiting our thinking to just one way, we deprive ourselves of the plethora of other fixes that are available to us. In this case, the Global Curry Plan may fail because it is not addressing the actual problem. A shortage of curry is not the issue here, now is it?

Let us move on to an issue that is close to home. The government has decided to switch off analogue TV broadcasting in this country in the first quarter of 2019, in a move to force migration from analogue to digital using a set-top box (STB). No doubt, this is the trend . However, have we actually considered why we are doing this and whether the people want or need digital broadcasting?

Even if the STB is given for free, some people might not want or need to view content in high-definition (HD), for a multitude of reasons. Their television sets probably cannot support the resolution, or limited access may also hinder their ability to enjoy the contents.

At the other end of that spectrum, affluent people might already have devices that make content consumption so fluid via over-the-top (OTT) that the offer of the digital broadcast via the STB may be laughable to them.

Imagine what could happen when the analogue switch-off is implemented. One scenario that may arise is that some people may be cut off from consuming any content.

If only one solution is identified and forced on everyone, then other problems may crop up.

I believe the focus should be on finding the right antidote by attending to the specific consumer behaviour, and recognising that there are different groups of consumers with different demographic profiles, needs and problems. One antidote cannot be the cure for all the pain points. The answer may lie in having a hybrid of solutions or cures.

Now let us look at another real scenario. Last year, the government mooted the National Fiberisation Plan (NFP), which identified fibre technology as the solution to ensure that the entire nation would have a faster internet connection in five years.

The NFP has now been replaced by the National Fiberisation and Connectivity Plan (NFCP) that will consider fibre-optic broadband to boost national connectivity. Under Budget 2019, RM1 billion has been allocated to implement NFCP. Among the objectives of this plan is to get a baseline internet connection speed of 30Mbps in 98% of the populated areas in Malaysia. The plan also states that by 2023, the government would completely phase out copper wires, while fibre networks should be ready in 70% of government buildings by 2022.

If the objective of the project is to enable the whole country to enjoy a minimum broadband speed of 30Mbps, the question that should probably be asked is, “What solutions are available right now to meet the target broadband speed of 30Mbps, taking into account the geographic location and existing last-mile infrastructure?”

Answering this question may require the assessment of all bandwidth technologies, including copper technology, to see which one can deliver the objectives efficiently and at the lowest cost. This will bring out the many varieties of fixes that are available for the different types of consumer.

For people who are living in affluent or new areas, fibre-optic cables might be the solution. For dwellers of old buildings where copper wires are still used for the last-mile connectivity, other technologies that can exceed the minimum connectivity speed targeted are available. For instance, technological limitations associated with copper networks can be overcome using devices that use specifications that deliver connection speeds of up to 2,000Mbps over the same copper network.

As fibre-optic cables are notoriously expensive, the task of replacing these cables will put an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer. It is better to ask what is needed in the different areas, rather than to give a blanket solution for all.

Just as consumer behaviour keeps changing, so does technology. A technology of today can be obsolete tomorrow, and while tomorrow’s technology can solve the problems of tomorrow, we must also ask whether it could be disrupted thereafter. This is because technology is fluid and ever-changing.

So if we choose a Global Curry Plan, that is a technology-based solution over one that specifically attends to changing consumer behaviour, not only could we pay a heavy price, but our problems may remain unresolved.

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