Software’s full potential – are we there yet?

Almost 20 years after the ‘DotCom 1.0’ era, and ten years after Marc Andresson opined that ‘Software is eating the world’, it would seem that we should be at the point where software finally realises its full potential. Whether that’s consumer platforms that help us live better, more connected lives, or business software that improves both workforce productivity and employee satisfaction, software is now as much a part of the landscape as factories in the 19th century or the jet airliner in the late 20th century. So what will it take for software to take the next ‘leap’ and to continue to transform the way we live?

For consumers, the smartphone finally achieved what the PC couldn’t – near-ubiquity in developed markets and rapidly rising share in the developing world. For many, the PC was both out of reach economically, and of limited utility (given early consumer PC usage mostly revolved around either business productivity software or gaming). The smartphone arrived at a time where ‘dumb’ mobile phones were already widely in use, and so achieved rapid penetration of the population in-line with ‘natural’ device upgrade cycles.

For consumers, this lead to the rise of the ‘unicorn platforms’ – across social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Snap), communications (WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom) and convenience (Uber, Uber Eats, Deliveroo). While these platforms have undoubtedly changed the way that we live, in many cases the mobile form-factor is now a limitation – due to screen size compromises (too small to be useful vs too big to carry) and constraints of touch-screen input (anyone who has tried to write anything longer than a text or to edit any form of document will be able to relate to this)

This means that consumer technology is in somewhat of a ‘holding pattern’ awaiting the next big update in hardware and user-interfaces. These will only come from a true breakthrough in voice input and wearables (we’re in the pre-iPhone equivalent of the ‘smartphone’ era). Once we get to the next generation of Alexa/Siri/Cortana and viable intelligent glasses, this will likely spur a period of rapid development which will deliver the next revolution in the way that consumers interact with technology.

Conversely, business technology suffers less from form factor challenges, and more from the lack of connectivity and the challenges that come with improving legacy, yet business-critical platforms.

For most organisations, business-critical software is based on technology (both hardware and software) which were first developed in the early 1990s. At that point in time, the internet was a mere distraction, with businesses reliant on hardware firmly planted in the server room and tethered to desks, and software which did not extend beyond the single use-case for which it was implemented.

This is true of most major organisations – be them banks, airlines, telcos, utilities or other major corporations. These businesses are now grappling with three key questions:

  • How do they continue to improve system connectivity, while maintaining a high degree of security?
  • How do they meet the rising expectations of staff and customers, through technology which was designed for a much simpler use-case?
  • At what point do they ‘start again’ with a newly architected platform which will deliver on connectivity and user experience, vs continuing to evolve the in-place, legacy systems?

Unfortunately for most businesses, the cost of making major system improvements (let alone a ‘greenfield’ technology implementation) is prohibitive – with most ‘major’ technology projects being mere tweaks to existing use-cases. This will continue to be the challenge while technology expertise remains in short supply, and the amount of human effort required to change platforms meaningfully remains exceptionally high.

This means that businesses are nowhere near realising the full potential of software, which will only be achieved when platforms are all seamlessly connected to each other, and able to flexibly and rapidly evolve to serve new and improved use-cases that deliver on the business’ needs.

Andrew Joyce,

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