How Better Software Can Save the World

How Better Software Can Save the World

Achieving a quantum leap in IT productivity isn't merely possible, says Adam Kolawa, author of an upcoming book on IT productivity. It is absolutely essential.

About 30 years ago, I tried to calculate the mass of a glueball, a highly mysterious subatomic particle composed entirely of gluons, which are the infinitesimally tiny elementary particles that make it possible for protons and neutrons to stick together in atomic nuclei. As you can imagine, the calculations were extremely complex and required an enormous amount of computing power.

But I couldn't find the right software to perform my calculations. Instead of using something that "sort of worked," but was not quite exactly what I needed, I decided to build my own software.

That decision ended my career as a struggling theoretical physicist and launched my career as successful software developer. Pretty soon, I was working for big companies that were interested in my methods for developing high-quality software quickly and with relatively few bugs.

I tried to explain that I was only following the lessons I had learned from reading productivity gurus Deming and Juran and applying those lessons to the software development process. But I don't think the bosses really cared. They only knew that they liked what I was doing.

But it got me thinking. The company management was only getting a fraction of the value they might have received if they had been a little more interested in how I built the software, instead of just being happy they got what they wanted (on schedule and at a reasonable cost).

As you can probably tell, my sympathies lie with the geeks who write the code and their spiritual cousins who manage the various IT processes that are foundational to every business. But I also understand the challenges facing the suits who must answer to the board of directors.

Much has been written about the need for IT to develop a deeper understanding of business. For the past decade, CIOs have been urged, coaxed, counseled and exhorted to act more like CEOs, chief financial officers (CFOs), chief operating officers (COOs), and other C-level executives.

I'm not going to argue about the wisdom of that advice. But I'm going to suggest that it's only half the story. The other half, the piece that is usually missing from conversations about innovation, competitiveness and the opening new markets is this: It is time for business to learn more about IT.

Specifically, it is time for CEOs, CFOs, COOs, and other C-level executives to start acting more like CIOs.

Why now? Why should top management expend the energy required to learn more about IT, a large amorphous aggregation of multiple technologies that is constantly moving, changing shape and evolving into who knows what?

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