Bright Lights, Big Sh**ty

Every human being has an “ooh! Shiny!” reflex. It varies in intensity and frequency, but it’s always there. It’s the reason theme parks and action blockbuster movies make money.

This trait has consequences. It means even the most hardcore rationalist, evidence-based, science-minded among us will occasionally stray from the Path of Truth for a quick stroll down Glitter Lane.

There, we find familiar phrases have been given new context: Big Data. Deep Learning. Blockchain. Cybersecurity. Suddenly journalists, VCs and startup founders are jumping on tables and dancing the Tarantella.

The expression “Fake News” may be of recent vintage, but it is the descendant (or in Hollywood terms, “reboot”) of the word “Hype.” Hype interferes with the creation of value, and consumers’ ability to identify value. It is a key contributor to what Herbert Marcuse called “the perfection of waste.”

Let’s try something new! Let’s try calling things what they are.

Software *is* a Service

When the “Software Industry” first came into being, software delivery was postal. Literally. You received disks in the mail or purchased them in a physical store. But even back then, before broadband, digital downloads and automated updates made the “virtual” nature of software obvious, you were not buying a product. The disk, CD or DVD was never the product, it was the wrapper. The precious bytes on those disks were the product. Or were they?

What you really purchased — what you still purchase to this day — was an end-use license. You bought permission to use the software, nothing else. You acquired no physical (nor even virtual) product. You merely acquired a right to use the software on one or more machines.

The software industry is, and always has been,
an intellectual-property rental business.

This truth is like a bad video clip — once we’ve seen it, we cannot unsee it. The only rational response is to discard everything we “know” based on the presumption that software is a product.

What This Changes

Once we fully embrace software as a service industry, some lovely consequences come into sharp focus:

  1. The software lifecycle is, in fact, a human-relationship lifecycle.
  2. The value of any software asset is intertwined with the community that supports it.
  3. User experience is the single greatest contributing factor to perceived value.

None of this means we can never use product-oriented design or methodologies for software. It just means we’ve been overdoing it, by an order of magnitude.

Think of these recent developments: cloud computing, DevOps, continuous integration/deployment, microservices, the proliferation of APIs. Consider them from a service provider’s perspective. The danger of the “Shiny!” reflex becomes apparent.

We must not allow ourselves to be mystified by the tools we use to bring code to market. However shiny our instruments become, we remain stewards of stored value, that is lost unless it serves people.

We work in the service sector, like bartenders, valet-parking attendants, and hotel managers. Customer satisfaction, not technical excellence, is our highest calling. Though it’s nice when we can have both.

Photo credit: Daniil Vnoutchkov via Unsplash

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