The Twelfth Man: Why Software Systems Give Companies The Critical Edge - Part II


Date: Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Intro

History tells us that the struggles of the major corporations tend to eventually trickle down to smaller enterprises. For example, all companies eventually had to adopt the mechanisation of the industrial revolution in order to survive. Two generations later they had to do the same again during the electric revolution. One generation later again with the electronics and telecommunications revolution. Half a generation later with the Internet. You are probably spotting a trend here ...

 

Organisations today, large and small, need to move faster than ever.

 

" ... it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.”

~Klaus Schwab - founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum~

In the first of this two-part series, we discussed why modern organisations need to understand and adapt to the technological landscape they find themselves in. In this second part, we will be reviewing what it takes for them to stay there.

Let's start by taking a look at an example ...

Kodak

The figures speak for themselves. 85% of US camera sales, 90% of US camera film sales by the mid-70s, $10 billion sales revenue by 1981 when Kodak had been in business for 100 years. We can perhaps understand why management felt the company was not going anywhere anytime soon. Yet In January 2012, Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The reason? Digital cameras.

But the deep irony is that the first self-contained digital camera was developed in 1975 by Steven Sasson an engineer at - you guessed it - Kodak.

Kodak a bit like Xerox at the time, started down the road of technological innovation and digital transformation but made the mistake of thinking they were done when they were in fact just at the beginning. Kodak was actually a technology company (that happened to sell cameras), they just didn't realise it.

The lesson is about the way we view technology. If we see technology, especially software, as a commodity - a product like a photocopier - it is easy to get things wrong. It seems that successful modern enterprises tend to see technology more as a service, an enabler, that they both supply and consume. They understand that IT is a journey, not a pit stop.

Kodak was founded in the late 19thC by George Eastman. Introductions like simple inexpensive cameras, roll film and photo development as a service meant that while Eastman looked like he was selling photography, he was actually selling innovation. A century later it seems that Kodak may have forgotten this - they thought they were selling cameras. If they had remembered how Eastman had begun they may have embraced digital photography far earlier.

Here Today ... Here Tomorrow

Every journey requires ongoing investment. We do not normally start walking somewhere and then stop, frustrated at the ongoing cost of operating our legs. Rather, we understand that if we are going to get anywhere, we need to keep going - keep expending - until we reach our destination.

Successful enterprises understand that they have an ongoing relationship with their software systems and like any ongoing relationship, that requires ongoing investment.

But why? Surely once a project is complete it's done and that's it. Well, is that really true? For example, if you were to find a website that was built 20 years ago and had been left untouched in that time, you may well discover that it looks odd - it may not even work at all. Why? The website has not changed. What has changed, is everything else. The browser you are using to view it is completely different, the computer you are using may be a phone or a tablet now, the screen resolution is likely much higher. All this conspires to radically alter the experience of the same piece of software.

And that is just a website. Enterprise integration software is far more complicated. Here is a list of just some of the factors that can change over the lifetime of a software system.

 

Expectations As technology becomes more ubiquitous expectations around speed and usability change
Requirements What the system needs to do to remain useful often broadens over the years
Usage New users may simply use the software in unexpected ways or the number of users may change
Hardware The software may need to move to a new home
Available Technology Other systems that your system relies on may fall out of date or become unavailable
Support Those who know and understand your system might move on
Security Threats Increase with time and may force the need to change
Patches Alterations made in the name of maintenance can sometimes affect the system in unexpected ways, requiring more maintenance.

 

Over time all these pressures can choke a system like weeds taking over a garden. Perhaps this should not be surprising given the second law of thermodynamics. According to one definition :

 

The Second Law ... states that there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state.

 

Conclusion

Enterprises large and small benefit by understanding their relationship with IT - and that it is a long-term relationship at that. IT expenditure, often viewed as a cost - a necessary evil - should perhaps be viewed as an ongoing investment in core infrastructure.

The Twelfth Man is an expression used in football (and other sports) to describe the influence a team's fans can have on the game. That influence can be so great that it is like having an extra man on the pitch - potentially changing the outcome of the competition.

More and more so today, a company's IT systems (and crucially its relationship with its IT systems) comprise its twelfth man. An invisible force with game-changing impact.

 

Lance Edusei

Lance is working for Village for the second time in his career, currently working on .Net projects in eCommerce and ticketing. Like many of the members of the team who have been working for decades he has a broad range of database and development skills and a long experience of providing customer service. Lance had a 7 year break from Village and has come back to find some of the same projects are still delivering.

Read more posts by Lance Edusei