The New Software Industry: David Messerschmitt

David Messerschmitt, a prof at UC Berkeley and the Helsinki University of Technology, finished the formal presentations for the day with a talk on how inter-firm cooperation can be improved in the software industry. This is an interesting wrap-up, since we’ve been hearing about technology, applications and business opportunities all day, and this takes a look at how all these new software industry companies can cooperate to the benefit of all parties.

He started out by proposing a mission statement: focus the software industry’s attention and resources on providing greater value to the user and consumer. This has two aspects: do less harm, and do more direct provision of value to the customer rather than the computational equivalent of administrivia.

In general the software industry has a fairly low customer satisfaction rate of around 75%, whereas specific software sectors such as internet travel and brokerage rank significantly higher. In general, services provided by people have a lower satisfaction rate (likely due to the variability of service levels), and the satisfaction rates are decreasing each year. Complaints are focussed on gratuitous change (change due to platform changes rather than anything that enhances user value) and security, and to some extent on having to change business processes to match an application’s process rather than having the system adapt to their business process. Certainly, there are lessons here for BPM implementations.

Messerschmitt raised the issue of declining enrolment of women in computer science, which he thinks is in part due to the perception that computer science is more about heads-down programming rather than about dealing with users’ requirements. He sees this as a bit of a canary in a coal mine, indicating some sort of upcoming problem for the computing industry in general if it is driving away those who want to deal with the user-facing side of software development. Related to that, he recommends the book Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel, for its study of how customers are providing innovation that feeds back into product design and development, not just in software but in many areas of products.

He ended up by discussing various ways to improve inter-firm cooperation, such as the Global Environment for Networking Innovations (GENI) initiative, ways to accomplish seamless operation of enterprise systems, and referring to a paper that he recently wrote and will be published in July’s IEEE Proceedings, Rethinking Components: From Hardware and Software to Systems. He then listed elements of collective action that can be pursued by industry players, academia and professional organizations to help achieve this end:

  • Systematically look at knowledge gaps and ensure that the research is addressing those gaps
  • Create/educate the human resources that are needed by the industry
  • Understand and encourage complementarities, like broadband and certain types of software
  • Structures and processes: capture end-user innovations for incorporation into a product, and achieve a more orderly evolution of technology with the goal of leaving behind many fewer legacies in the future

He’s definitely of the “a rising tide lifts all boats” mindset.

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