Software for Domain Experts – a new business model? Report from our Athens conference


Our first Software for Domain Experts conference in Athens, Greece, on October 29 explored a better way to develop software for domain experts, and how the business models could work

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Could it be possible to build much better software for domain experts – and could there be many business opportunities along the way for organisations which employ domain experts, domain experts, software companies large and small, and investors?

This is the topic we explored in our Athens conference at The Cube, October 29, 2015, “Software for Domain Experts”.

By ‘domain experts’ we mean someone who is an expert in a particular field or domain, and has a job role where they use this expertise as part of an organisational process. So, they could be in anything from fish farming to running a government department.

Our starting theory is that many of these people could do far more with software, given current computing capabilities, than they currently do, and modern enterprise (organisational) software does not serve them as well as it could.

Much enterprise software has been built to process transactions or manage ‘workflows’. This is excellent if it is built for users who do manage transactions or have work which follows the same steps every time, for example managing a billing or purchasing process, or approving mortgage requests in a bank.

But most expert roles are very “messy”, in that people don’t work in a standardised way every time which you can copy into a flowchart and embed in ‘workflow’ software, or they gather and analyse data in a very particular way which is usually not compatible with enterprise software.

The ideal software for such an expert might be built in a very different way to standard enterprise software. Its main focus could be providing the expert with information relevant to what they currently need to do, and providing them with relevant experiences – for example a story from an expert who was in a similar situation, talking about what they did.

The software still needs to make sure their work fits with the business processes, but perhaps in a less restrictive, or more goal-centric way, than current enterprise software usually allows.

This requires software to be made in a very different way to how software is currently made. At the conference we identified several factors which might help.

To provide relevant information, the software would need to be built with sophisticated modelling, which understands what the expert is currently doing, what they need to know, and what organisational data would serve them best.

To provide ‘relevant experiences’, perhaps you would record many people speaking about their experiences, their opinions, or themselves, in video form, which is much easier to learn from, and make judgements from, than written text. Or perhaps you would employ journalists to record people’s stories.

The software might be built using ‘low code’ software technology, which aims to automate much of the process of writing code, and enables you to create code which is more robust and requires less testing – thus reducing the cost of creating software and enabling software to be adapted easily once built.

An enormous amount of modelling would be required – building models of the business process, building models of the information an expert requires, building models of how the software would work together.

All of this could create big business opportunities for Greece. Building and maintaining such software could be a task better suited to small start-up companies, which would each serve a narrow sector, and so many new companies could be created.

Greece could also become a centre of excellence for researching and providing the necessary modelling skills, which no-one anywhere in the world has yet figured out how to do.

And meanwhile consider that so many of the world’s biggest problems might be solved by experts supported by better software as part of a looser business process. Climate change, counter-terrorism, refugees, cybersecurity, maintaining water and electricity supplies in developing countries, providing universal high quality education, not to mention corporate challenges such as running complex organisations, managing complex infrastructure, avoiding accidents, and making sure your company doesn’t run out of cash.

The ‘internet of things’ movement – adding billions of sensors – will also generate much more data – and generate much more requirement for non- transactional expert work to make use of it.

Our conference in Athens on October 29th explored all these issues.

Our opening speaker, George Karaplis, a former CFO of Greek telecom company OTE, explained what he saw as the business case around ‘low code’ and how to build a business with it.

Our second speaker, Roger Schank of Socratic Arts, and one of the world’s top experts on Artificial Intelligence, explained how to include stories as part of a software package – and how to make people love your software much more.

Our third speaker, Aristos Doxiadis, a well-known Greek economist and investor in software start-ups, gave valuable advice on how to get a start-up software company thriving in the current environment, in the software for domain experts space.

This was followed by three speakers from academia – Vassilis Zafeiris of Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB), Kostas Kontogiannis of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), and Nikitas Assimakopoulos of the University of Piraeus, who talked about academic work to improve modelling and develop more flexible enterprise software structures.

Finally, we had three case studies of Greek (or partly Greek) software companies in this space: Payment Components, which makes ‘low code’ tools to make it easier to build financial transaction software, Sensorflare, which makes tools to make it easier to connect ‘internet of things’ devices, and B2B Wave, which makes it easier for small business owners to build online stores.

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