I was reading Stephen Smoliar’s latest post on The Google Paradigm and its Discontents, and something he said struck me harder than it ever did before, even if he’s said it a million times. Now most regular readers know Stephen by now, he’s one of the most prolific commenters here.Â I agree with Stephen about many things; I disagree with Stephen about many things; and then there’s a large group of things I don’t even claim to understand as yet, and that doesn’t stop me reading what he writes.
I quote from that post:
As I suggested in the opensourcing discussion, we cannot talk about processes in any productive way unless we are as â€œepistemologically comfortableâ€ with verbs and verb phrases as we are with nouns and noun phrases.
Something about what he said there made me think about the glazed look people used to give me when I first spoke about any aspect of software as a service. To many people, software is a noun and inanimate as well; to many people, service remains a “doing” word and closer to a verb despite being a noun. And this separation of service from software seems to create a whole series of problems in people’s minds.
The three biggest problems it seems to create are in the following areas:
Creativity: People seem to believe that software can be “clever” while service can’t; as a result, they seem to think that software is patentable, leading to all kinds of blind alleys. Which is why we now see terms like software-and-a-service, suggesting that there has to be a difference, and (at least in my mind) basing that difference on intellectual property lines.
Substitutability: For many years it has astounded me just how often oe particular class of projects fail, those based on replacing human labour with software. It doesn’t seem to matter just how mind-numbing the activity being displaced is, somehow the substitution never happens. This behaviour is at least part of the reason why many aspects of process re-engineering did not work, since processes were tied to people and doing, while the re-engineered components were tied to software. It didn’t matter what we did with the software, the people stayed on. Sometimes even grew in numbers. A variant of this happened in the offshore world. How else could you explain the focus on offshoring standardised repeatable cookie cutter tasks rather than those requiring human brainpower? Surely tasks that were standardised, repeatable and cookie-cutter would be excellent candidates for automation rather than offshoring? But what do I know?
Service innovation (which I guess is an amalgam of the two prior points). For some reason, whenever I’ve tried to drive a discussion similar to that on the opensourcing of process, I start hitting this noun-verb argument. In many people’s eyes, process as a concept seems very tied to people, in a way that software isn’t. Perhaps it’s a function of just how long the concepts have existed. This is the reason why we spend so much time carefully paving the cowpaths; in fact we’ve been doing it for so long that nowadays, when we find bits of road, we dig it up and pave them differently so that they continue to look like the cowpaths they never were.