20 July 2017

Everything becomes software

Without properly functioning software an organisation grinds to a halt. You would probably have been ridiculed if you had suggested this in the 1990s. Hardware played the upper hand, and nowhere near everyone recognised the potential of software. These days hardware is subservient to the software, from smart buildings to 3D printers. Organisations have never been as dependent on software as they are now.

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I was responsible for sponsorships as a committee member of STRESS, the Dutch University of Twente’s Business Administration study society. In that capacity, I was once in discussion with a recruiter. ‘So you find commerce interesting?’ he asked me. ‘Then I hope you don’t end up in the software sector.’ I have always remembered this. Partly as a result of his comment, I felt for some time that I should not opt for the software world. And so I ended up in hardware, at Hewlett-Packard, market leader in the server sector.

From hardware to software

Of course at that time I had no idea how the world would change. Hardware has now become software. For the average car mechanic, for instance, it’s no longer sufficient just to know about car parts. These days, he or she also needs to understand the latest technology. My car’s brake pads may indeed be hardware, but the sensors that measure how the brake pads are doing run on software. Many cars now have an electronic handbrake, and this too is controlled by software. Hardware has become a ‘commodity’, while it is software that makes the real difference.

And that is how most organisations see things too. After my time in the hardware world, I moved over to that of business software. I even had the full agreement of my father. ‘Soon you’ll get hardware free with a tube of toothpaste,’ was his flippant, but also visionary, suggestion. One of my first meetings as a software sales manager was with Heineken, and this was their message: ‘Marcel, you are now working for our most important IT partner. If your software stops, our organisation stops.’ That is when I realised immediately just what a heavy responsibility one bears as a software supplier. Certainly when your software supports operational processes, as we do here at Planon. Our role is to help organisations’ Real Estate and Facility Management departments to be successful. That we are successful in this is confirmed by a range of clients, and that yields a great deal of satisfaction.

Do not dodge innovations

What you see happening in the world of Real Estate and Facility Management, is that software makes its entrance through hardware. For example, buildings are equipped with sensors. The software in the sensors then ensures that data is collected. This data is analysed and used to improve the operational process. In this way, hardware is moving steadily further from the end user, while software by contrast comes closer. Organisations are not concerned about the brand of the hardware, in this case the sensor, but acquire a service. So the software is paramount in the service provision.

Will software retain this ‘leading position’? That is crystal-gazing. After all, at the time that recruiter also did not know that software would gain this position. I expect software to become more accessible and smarter. Perhaps over time, software will even be written by software itself. But I do know one thing for certain: I would never discourage anyone from going along with these innovations. Your current ideas are often overtaken, after all, before you are aware of it. And that is because not everyone has the clairvoyant abilities of my father, isn’t that so Dad?

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