Business software is traditionally and currently nearly always done like this. Big company buys software from big software company which promises to solve their problems. Small companies have less budget to buy it, and small software companies can’t make such large and complex products, but it is still roughly the same thing.
What if the future is something completely different – with multiple software tools, platforms, data exchange platforms, robust information security, all linked together to achieve the same thing?
Here’s two business examples I’ve looked at – offshore oil and gas drilling, and refugees in Greece.
In OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS DRILLING – there has been a dream for decades that you’d have multiple service providers on the drilling rig, operating different sensors and devices, all generating data, which they then send in real time (using a standard data exchange system) to various experts working in different offices around the world. The experts would go through the data and spot problems about to occur, or even problems currently occuring, and help improve the efficiency of the overall operation.
What happens is a long way from this. We hear that the different service providers on offshore drilling rigs can’t even synchronise their clocks (so one stream of real time data might be 10 seconds ahead of another one). Drilling is actually getting slower, due to longer delays (known as ‘non productive time’) which means the cost of an offshore well has grown from $13m to $30m even post oil crash prices.
Drilling rigs can cost $500k a day so the incentive to reduce non productive time is enormous, yet the problem doesn’t get fixed.
For REFUGEES IN GREECE – one problem which the non governmental organisations face is poor data – it is very hard for them to know basic numbers like how many people are where and how many people need medical help. There are multiple stakeholders involved (different NGOs, the government, refugees themselves). People can easily get counted twice (eg if a refugee is looked after by different NGOs). Developing a software system which could fix it would be very hard – because (among other things) every stakeholder would need to agree to use it, otherwise it would be pointless.
But perhaps developing a standard data exchange system for refugee data, and a standardised method of unique identity, could be relatively easy to make – and then each stakeholder could adjust their own software to use it (including refugees themselves, since many of them have smart phones) ? Security would be perhaps an even bigger concern than for drilling, since it might include people’s personal health data.
For now, this system isn’t being built either. There’s not much money involved in looking after refugees of course but many highly motivated and highly skilled people.
It isn’t hard to think of more examples where non centralised software might work. Many businesses have complex eco-systems with money changing hands rapidly along long chains of companies working together, with many complex payment systems, loan systems, invoicing and accounting systems adding to the complexity. if all the financial systems used a data exchange standard, perhaps the actual funds exchange could be much simplified, perhaps with one business to business financial transaction a year for each company, and lending where required could be guaranteed against future business which has already been agreed, so banks can fill deficits in working capital at low interest rates.
Going further – right now most people work in big companies but would prefer to work in small companies – and could be much more motivated that way, and there could be much less cost in the overall system. Where there are barriers to information and data exchange, big companies make sense. Does the opposite apply? Could non-centralised software make it much easier for hundreds of thousands of talented but underemployed young people to set up their own start-up?