Learn to Say No

When I first joined the water utility I discovered that my division chief, we’ll call him Ed, constantly projected himself as a crusty authoritarian figure. Every time someone would approach him with some “new idea,” perhaps even something he’d like to do, his first answer was almost always a resounding “No.” And unless they were prepared enough to counter that No, with something along the lines of “The benefits outweigh the risks and here’s why…” they would scurry away like a dogs with their tails between their legs.

I was mystified by this behavior for several years. And then I realized how many ridiculous, cockamamie notions get pitched to people like him every day. Most of these ideas came from people who had one agenda and one issue they were concerned with. But maintaining utility operations infrastructure is multi-faceted. Few truly understand the totality of the issues.

And it is here that I must admonish my friends from the OT side of the house that not all data requests are worth your time. Data is not free. There are security risks. And instead of automatically facilitating every request, learn to say No. This is especially the case where the requests are from people who probably don’t fully understand the nuances in the data. There are artifacts in the instrumentation process that most non-engineers do not know or understand. So guess who they annoy when reviewing data? No, you don’t have time to explain their profession to people just want a number.

In IT, there are people who are rightfully scared of becoming the character of Mordac (“Preventer of Information Services”) from Dilbert. And while we all like to laugh at Mordac, we also need to recognize that your time and effort cost money. There has to be a return on that request. It is reasonable to expect someone to make a business case for using your time and introducing further risks to the company security to get at data they may not fully understand. But there are many single-issue cause pushers who simply don’t know or don’t care about the other concerns.

Tell them to pound sand and do it in such a way that they won’t come back until they’re willing to understand your concerns as well. And by the way, this especially goes for people who are pushing technological solutions to problems you don’t have. Start with No, and see if they have any answers. If they don’t, you have just saved your company more risks and wasted time.


With more than 30 years experience at a large water/wastewater utility and extensive experience with control systems, substation design, SCADA, RF and microwave telecommunications, and work with various standards committees, Jake still feels like one of those proverbial blind men discovering an elephant. Jake is a Registered Professional Engineer of Control Systems. Note that this blog is Jake's opinion ONLY. No Employers, past or present were ever consulted with regard to these posts. These are Jake's notions. Don't blame anyone else for them.