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  • Writer's pictureShannon Lantzy

Prevent or Respond: Which side of the problem are you working on?

To surmount large challenges, know which side you're working on and maintain focus


Ransomware in hospitals wreaks havoc on medical care. Hospitals and the industry must work on ways to respond optimally when ransomware attacks occur. It is equally critical, if not more so, that we work on ways to systemically prevent the attacks from happening in the first place.


It is tough to focus on both sides of the problem at once. When we try to both prevent and respond at the same time, we muddy the message, try to serve too many stakeholders at once, and (in my humble opinion) waste much of our effort in the confusion.


Clarity is even more critical when it comes to government funding and programs. What is the goal of the funding?


Government technology R&D investment should be focused on the prevention or elimination of today's challenges. This is the DARPA model. The Silicon Valley tech investments bank on the future value of innovations. Investing in something that responds to a situation that will be eliminated in the future is logically inconsistent with the idea of investing in future growth. Investing in prevention on a massive scale is consistent with the purpose of R&D.


Government aid programs are needed for support in response to threats to public health. This is the FEMA model. Organizations, localities, neighborhoods, and other entities need help in unpredictable times, and we have government programs to provide that assistance. In healthcare, companies and localities often work on very narrow margins, and therefore can't easily invest in 100% resilience to massive events outside of their control, like hurricanes and ransomware. Disaster planning, emergency scenario practice, and training are critical for the initial response, but government support and programs are well-suited for a specialized response on a massive scale (setting aside some of the troublesome aspects of government solutions, it's about investments during an unanticipated shock to the system).


Sometimes technology can systematically help use during response (e.g., communications channels for emergencies). I'm sure there are many exceptions to the gross generalizations I'm presenting here. I'm very curious to hear dissenting opinions.


~Shannon, the Optimistic Optimizer


Ps. This post was brought to you by yours truly, a huge fan of ARPA-esque programs as well as other government programs that spur innovation.

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