Take a look at the people behind the research, product, company or groundbreaking discovery. The ASTech Foundation’s Humans of Alberta Innovation campaign shows a new side to Alberta’s fascinating innovation community — the human one.
Allan Chegus is the president and CEO of 2015 Stream Systems Ltd., which won the 2016 Outstanding Science and Technology Start-up Award. Stream Systems’ technology identifies and solves optimization issues by replacing expensive custom models with a business solution that can be created five to ten times faster than the models.
Our world is a series of systems
Back in the ‘80s when I started working in oil and gas, it was very rudimentary. PCs were just coming in, it was simple stuff. Data was scattered and incomplete. I did a lot of operational engineering work, and I got into controls engineering and control systems. We started looking at the logic behind how the systems worked. And I got really interested; this is very cool stuff!
I became a consultant later in my career and soon realized that organizations weren’t thinking about or solving problems in a holistic way. Decisions were siloed within groups or departments, rather than with the understanding of how it would impact the organization as a whole. I realized that what was needed was the application of systems thinking to understand operational networks differently. And, this needed to be done in a way that facilitated experimentation to arrive at the best outcome.
What I imagined was a creative tool that enabled the user to see how operational decisions impacted networks as a system, but that also allowed them to experiment with new ways of operating. The technology couldn’t support the ideas yet, but we could conceive it, understand it and think about how it might work.
Today, the tool and technology have reached convergence with the need because we have so much capacity and speed. So now it’s limited by our creativity. How do we put the algorithms and the software together to replicate the real world?
This is why modelling is so important. The technology at Stream Systems takes our collective experiences and puts it together with algorithms and systems that make sense. It’s a single model for finance, operational, environmental, human behaviour, business rules and quality information. Then you throw scenarios at it to understand if we run this scenario, how does it impact the entire organization?
It takes away from individual understanding and creates a cohesive, collective understanding. Getting access to information is important; getting access to information in real time is crucial. The human will always make the final call, but the machine is great at crunching a lot of information to identify all the alternatives.
As the world gets more connected and more complex, we need tools to help us understand what is even possible. As humans, we need to understand how to deal with that complexity. Our brains are wired for pattern recognition, not data crunching.
Our world is a series of systems. Systems thinking is becoming more prevalent, and it’s driven through our education system. At engineering school, I learned to decompose the problem, get it down to its elements, and solve those problems. The assumption was when you add it all up again, it solves all the problems, but I realized it didn’t. I know if we shift technology to a systems-based approach, then each system is impacting part of the bigger picture.
Since we started Stream Systems, my world has completely changed. As an entrepreneur, I am consumed by my work; it becomes everything you are and everything you do. It’s also opened my eyes to what’s really possible. I look back on the concept now and it was so limited. Now I see it’s only limited by imagination. We are now solving problems with Stream that industries have grappled with for decades, and we are solving them on almost a weekly basis. That’s how revolutionary this is.
I’m trying to get people to understand anything is possible, but the biggest challenge is disbelief. Change is difficult.
When we started Stream, it was about changing oil and gas, and then we realized it was about transforming human thinking. Very philosophical, but not very practical. So, we said let’s create software to show people how this can be applied. That lead us into mining, mass transit, the power grid and hard-to-decipher government policies. These are all examples of systems thinking.
So here we are in Calgary, with our little company, 18-20 people. We do expect to scale up quite quickly, and we expect to go far beyond Calgary. It’s all based on ‘Let’s take this philosophy to the world, and help the world be a better place.’ Sometimes it doesn’t go as fast as you’d like. The real world meets your desire with limited resources.
If you think you’ve got a better idea, pursue it. As Canadians, we don’t have enough entrepreneurs. We have smart people and the physical resources, so what is holding us back? It’s our willingness to take risks, to be the first. That’s what we should believe as a Canadian culture. Take a leap of faith.