4/17/2013 10:12

Software as a Commodity

I remember once when I was a systems programmer for a private, for-profit company (this is probably in 1980) I made a proposal to develop some software. One of the experienced IT staffers in the department immediately responded, "Why don't we buy some software and get a professional job?"

He seemed to believe that the level of professionalism varies directly with the price. With company IT staff classifying themselves and (by extension) their colleagues as less than professional for the past 1/3 of a century, it's no wonder that corporate managers haven't been very supportive of in-house IT efforts. No surprise, either, that the company soon bought a costly and sloppy human resources package which nearly met their needs after heavy tweaking and several add-ons. A funny thing about that ... the company I was working for is in the business of selling buildings as a product. No dealing with architects and design engineers; just buy the building and have the builder install it. Don't fool yourself; the Big Thing in software marketing now may be called SaaS (which stands for "software as a service") but it is really software as a product.

As a full-spectrum contrarian, my views on the subject run quite precisely counter to those of my erstwhile colleague. I think "professional" software is robust, stable, easily modified, resiliant to unexpected inputs, and designed to meet the actual needs of the people who use it.

But, you know, I quit fighting that battle. I still feel the flash of zeal when the myth of corporate conformity gets voiced, but I judged that there are no effective tactics available for me to fight this particular battle. I may be a contrarian, but I am also a strategos.