Is software really eating the world?

Marc Andreessen of Mosaic, Netscape fame and an investor in many well-known Internet companies, stated in a New York Times essay in August of 2011 that, “software is eating the world.” More than five years later, it would be instructive to see if he was right on the money.

First, several quotes from the article:

My own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy.”

“Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software…”

“…all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.”

“…software programming tools and Internet-based services make it easy to launch new global software-powered start-ups in many industries—without the need to invest in new infrastructure and train new employees.”

This sounds like the world we live in today, doesn’t it?

The critical importance and value of software not in question — Information Technology as we know it would not exist without both software and software developers at all levels of the systems hierarchy.  Some examples:

  • Smartphones — How many software apps do you have installed on your phone? The operating system (i.e., software) makes it all work — including the phone, camera, music player, games, and videos. It is also the app stores (more software) that make it easy to acquire and update the apps.
  • Internet of Things — Every sensor, actuator, camera, television, machine, car, hydro switch, local controller, etc., attached to the Internet will necessarily have embedded software. It has been estimated that we will have 50 Billion “things” connected within just a few short years.
  • Networks/Internet — Every host, switch, router, firewall, appliance and management app, both physical and virtual, that are part of every network include software. Current developments in software-defined networks are really just a modernization of network software designs to produce greater flexibility and agility.
  • Data centres — Global scale data centres are software-intensive from end to end. Computing, storage and communications services have all been virtualized. Each element – from microcode to access controls and encryption – includes software. More software is needed for managing storage, performing backups, and for isolating users in multi-tenant environments.
  • Application platforms and storage — Applications and their platforms (e.g., middleware and databases) are software (by definition).
  • Business functionality — Today, software-defined businesses (i.e., companies whose operation is IT-based) have taken their place. These companies could not exist without systems and software. They are not simply automated versions of prior physical resources and manual processes. Some popular examples are Amazon for online retail sales, Netflix for video distribution, Uber for sharing rides, Facebook for personal communities, Skype for telephony and messaging, and more.

The first quote (above) is certainly coming true as is indicated by the examples above. There is really very little in the modern world that hasn’t been touched by, or is intimately tied to, software.

This has increased the importance of the “whole product” associated with software components.  All software requires, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

  • Support for user help, integration, monitoring, control, replication, etc.;
  • Initial development and subsequent maintenance;
  • Customization and integration within specific contexts and use cases;
  • Distribution of the initial version and subsequent updates; and
  • Testing and quality assurance during development and after detection of failures.

In the end, whether software is eating the world probably does not matter very much as long as we acknowledge it to be a valuable “natural resource” in the Digital Economy. Those who understand and can exploit software for disruptive innovation will create the next wave of business transformations.

This is what I think. Am I right or am I full of bugs?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Don Sheppard
Don Sheppard
I'm a IT management consultant. I began my career in railways and banks after which I took up the consulting challenge! I try to keep in touch with a lot of different I&IT topics but I'm usually working in areas that involve service management and procurement. I'm into developing ISO standards, current in the area of cloud computing (ISO JTC1/SC38). I'm also starting to get more interested in networking history, so I guess I'm starting to look backwards as well as forwards! My homepage is but I am found more here.

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