Where is all this connectedness getting us?

In this blog, we continue the conversation by discussing connectedness, which has become a great theme over the past few decades.

The last fifty years have been the most spectacular era of technological innovation in the history of the world and software has been at the centre of that revolution. The Internet is so much a component of our social and economic DNA that it might come as a shock to be reminded that it is only a bit over twenty years old; according to the International Telecommunications Union, an agency that oversees international communications at the United Nations, 3.2 billion people are using the Internet (up from 738 million in 2000). More than 40 percent of the global population has access to the Internet, compared to 7 percent back in 2000). And the number of connected individuals is expected to increase rapidly in the years ahead. To put that into perspective, the telegraph machine was only invented in the 1840s and the laying of transatlantic cable happened twenty years later. Adding machines only came onto the market in the 1880s. According to the Pew Internet Project, 90 percent of American adults today own a cell phone — that’s more than 242 million people. And 42 percent own a tablet computer. Impressive numbers — enviable even — but here’s something else to consider: connectedness. A majority of the adults surveyed  — 67 percent — owned smartphones and the overwhelming majority of younger smartphone owners claimed to “depend on their smartphones” for Internet access.

Connectedness is life. Don’t believe us?

AVG Technologies, a global security software company headquartered in Amsterdam, released a survey in 2015 that claimed while only 9 percent of US children under the age of five could tie their own shoes, 58 percent could play simple computer games. More than 70 percent of US parents with children between the ages of 3 and 17 said their children had access to their own mobile device before the seventh grade; of that number, 51 percent were connected before the fifth grade. (Interestingly, an overwhelming percentage of parents claim to have discussed privacy and other dangerous issues on the Internet with their children, but only 44 percent admitted knowing the password to their child’s device and only 41 percent have installed any kind of block against hazardous content.)

Connectedness and access are the twin pillars of the emergent digital economy. As more and more of the conventional economy moves online (just look at Amazon and Netflix as examples of media companies rearchitectured as software companies) your access to customers becomes a direct function of connectedness. Software made this happen. And the demand for new and more innovative software will only increase in the years ahead.

It won’t come as breaking news to any executive out there that because of globalization the business landscape becomes more treacherous each and every day. It isn’t just what is being done but how fast it is being done and how must faster it will have to be done that makes navigating this new landscape so challenging. IT is the engine that pumps the blood that flows through the veins of the global marketplace. And like anything that flows, change is the new norm. We can adapt to change but we cannot prevent change, and that is why no one will be able to stand still for too long.

Software is a language designed to perform action in a predetermined and predefined way. Virtually any task you can perform can be translated into code — software. We encounter this every day in a million different ways. Everything from mobile devices to GPS systems to on-line streaming to ATMs and virtually everything that we encounter in the world is embedded with software. Everything.

A service exists that uses a sensor to alert a parent to a baby’s dirty diaper, or one that regularly delivers new toothbrushes to your home; a refrigerator feature will notify you when stock on any regulars items are running low. Already we can book plane reservations via robot. We could be hear all day ticking off examples and still come up short. Software is everywhere. And the change this new software is having on business at every level is simply impossible to calculate. Many (most) of the changes are for the better. Not all of them, though. Connectedness is running hand in had with increasing remoteness. When virtually any and every form of human activity is transferred online, what will be left for us to do? Are we using our tools or are our tools using us?

Software as language

Like any language, with software there is always the possibility that a word or phrase might slip into a conversation that produces an unexpected result. Think of the movie gags about the love-struck American who tries to romance the French girl in her native tongue. He wants to say something like “your eyes are as blue as the sky” but instead says “your eyes bulge like a dead fish.”

Well, computer code is a far more complex language than French but the margins for error are just as narrow. It might surprise you that flaws in code occur with a much greater frequency than assumed, but that really isn’t so surprising if one factors for how many millions of lines of code comprise the average application today. Generally, the flaws — the industry prefers to refer to them as “bugs” or “glitches” — are harmless.

But not always.

Software malfunctions can occur at any time and literally for a million different reasons. As we said, most bugs are benign and the consequences of are minor or even no real concern. Serious bugs can create frustrating system delays, interruptions, brief to moderate shutdowns, or complete system collapses. Glitches have had devastating — even catastrophic — economic consequences for many companies (examples of which will be examined shortly). Occasionally bugs have far more serious consequences — in the healthcare industry, for instance, where patients have died as a result of software glitches.

It’s rare to come across bad code — deliberately bad code. It just does not happen that often. It’s like reading a sloppy high-school essay: the grammar might curl your hair but overall we get what is being said. Grammar can be fixed. Ideas that are muddy or unclear can be made more compelling and transparent. Software is no different. A big problem for software developers is when the student doesn’t understand the lesson or, contrariwise, the teacher has not been clear about what she wants.

The student, for instance, hands in an amazing essay about evolution.  It’s a brilliant essay, but when the teacher hands it back it’s marked with a big red F.

What the heck?

The theme of the essay was revolution, not evolution. Oops. Who knew one simple letter could make such a big difference between success and failure?

The Cost of Making Mistakes

Henry Ford had a simple idea that revolutionized manufacturing. If it costs X number of dollars to build a car, it would cost X divided by some factor Y to manufacture the same car over and over and over on an assembly line.

Were Henry Ford around today he would be frustrated to discover that what could be done for cars on an assembly line simply cannot be done when it comes to software. For the most part, software development is like reinventing the wheel over and over.

In essence, each IT project that is undertaken no matter what industry or what its application is a new wheel and that means few accumulated benefits from economies of scale. And that means testing strategies also need to be redesigned to meet new needs, requirements, and functions. Software developers are getting a lot smarter and better at what they do; the demands on them, however, are also increasing. The pressures to innovate are compounded as more and more of the economy transitions to software-based operation. It should come as no surprise that the cost to the economy of software bugs is substantial and that the price is expected to increase in the years ahead.

But cost is not always measured solely in dollars and cents; an important cost of a software malfunct

The next blog post will take a look at some ways to ensure that you are taking the right steps to guarantee your success while paving the road for further innovation.

Please reach out to me by email (arodov at qaconsultants.com) or via LinkedIn.

Alex Rodov is the Managing Partner at QA Consultants.