Software Development is Dying

Like dinosaurs encountering a 10 km-wide asteroid, the enterprise software applications that power our business ecosystems will not survive the change that is upon us. Covid-19 is merely an accelerant for a process that started around 20 years ago. The process is change itself, the need for business to be nimble, to move fast, to innovate and to respond to opportunities and threats. The way in which software systems are built today has never been suited to change. With software systems it’s been a case of “if it’s working don’t touch it”, which is why packaged software suppliers such as SAP really don’t want to customise their software for individual company needs.

A process not fit for purpose

Because software application development is difficult it has always resided in specialist departments and been undertaken by people who rarely experience the business environment that their software is designed to assist. This introduces a communication barrier between the business people who ask for help and the technicians who interpret this into code. The problem is compounded by the people who ask for help not fully understanding the nature of their own problem and thereby not asking for quite the right solution. The result is new systems that don’t exactly meet what business users need and so are themselves subject to corrective changes.

The process of software development is too lengthy, too prone to error and too fragile. It’s not fit for purpose in the new world of change. Improvements such as Cloud and Agile are relatively cosmetic - we are still dealing with a dinosaur. To handle change, we need mammals – fast and adaptive.

Business is about to become real-time

To quote McKinsey, “In the last century, we often thought about technology as enablement, as the back office, as something that we use to support our businesses. In this century—and certainly, post Covid-19—technology’s going to be very much in the front. It will be the competitive differentiator for how all businesses and ecosystems work.”

We see this trend now with smartphone apps, but as the IoT turns business into a real-time activity “in the front” will require a new generation of enterprise applications that are as adaptable as apps.

The solution is simple, implementing it, not so

Enterprise applications need to be created by business people and be changed in near real time. To do this requires an underlying model that contains all the basic rules of business, rules that apply equally to any organization, rules about the organizations and management of work and resources in an enterprise framework. To enable business people to configure the model for their own business it needs to replicate their work environment. This is a digital twin, and it originates from NASA’s need to engage with spacecraft and crew to enable rapid change following the Apollo 13 incident.

We’ve done it before, we can do it again

There is a precedent for this solution; the most pervasive application in business; the spreadsheet; a digital twin model of the columns and rows in an accountant’s ledger. When defining a spreadsheet, such as indicating the need for a column total, a user doesn’t have to test that it will work, they can start processing their data straight away.

The speed with which a spreadsheet can be changed and put back into production is what we need for enterprise applications – a digital twin model of business, the rules of which can be configured by business people and changed on demand - in a matter of minutes for a relatively small change.

Technology as the competitive differentiator

With the end of dinosaur enterprise applications, the software development industry will continue, but rather than building end-user solutions it will create tools for business people - the competitive differentiator for how all businesses and ecosystems work.