Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Digitization vs Softwarization

Based on late evening conversations with Aneesh Dubey.


When enterprises talk about taking advantage of software, they often mean digitization and not softwarization.

Digitization is making the existing process digital. One gets some of the benefit of software - speed and agility but the underlying process is still the same.

Softwarization is coming up with an entirely new process enabled by software.

It is useful to look at a business process as an operating system. The capital resources are the substrate over which this BusinessOS runs. Both employees and customers are the users.

Digitization in this case is merely getting a faster processor.

Softwarization is getting a completely new algorithmic core.

Things that remain computationally complex with mere digitization become tractable and scalable with softwarization.

Google Maps and Amazon don't just digitize traditional businesses (map making and retail respectively). They softwarize it. It is not possible to do Google Maps or Amazon with pen and paper, even at a slower speed. It is possible to do corporate payroll with pen and paper at a slower pace.

Even when a corporation or a department therein is failing, it doesn't consider software as an exit strategy. They try to scale down the existing process with layoffs and cost cuts.

The industrial ethos, peaking with the Toyota way was 'Process over People'. The Silicon Valley hacker ethos is 'People over Process'. This is privileging skill over volume. Leveraging softwarization iteratively results in exponentially increasing surplus refinement which gives volume often for free. This is why Facebook has more revenue per employee than most businesses.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Temples of the Modern World

India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru called dams the 'temples of modern India'. India had just gained independence from the British and the government was heavily focused on building infrastructure for this young country. But Nehru's statement was more of a hope and a vision than a statement of fact because dams (or anything else) never really became the temples of modern India. (Temples remain the temples of modern India.)

Modern USA, on the other hands has many such temples dedicated to the gods of science and technology. Last weekend, I visited Chicago with family. Traveling the US with my mother is a unique experience because I get to see this country with truly foreign eyes. As my mother marveled at the unthinkably tall skyscrapers of the city, I mused at how religious the entire experience of visiting a tourist city is, even for Americans.

Consider the similarities. Temples are often imposing structures, build to intimidate the visitor. People flock to temples in hordes, often traveling long distances and spending a significant amount of time and resources to visit them. They later revel in the memories of the visit and urge others to visit. Temples are created to evoke a sense of awe in the devout. But most importantly, temples are places that help you make sense of the world outside.

This is exactly what Chicago's - or any other big American city's, for that matter - tourist industry is set up to do. As tourists shuffles from on attraction to another, they are bombarded with imagery and statistics intended to evoke a sense of awe - look at how tall this building is, how incredible the forces that are holding it up against gravity! Look at all these marvels of science and technology, see these many wonders that the natural world has to offer! In the end, they come away better equipped to make sense of this world fueled with science and technology.

Sarah Perry in her excellent essay over at Ribbonfarm talks about two distinct kind of American tourist attractions - Theme Parks and Amusement Parks. Spaces such as Chicago downtown look like Theme Parks in many respects. However, as Perry points out, Theme Parks make no claims of authenticity. However, Chicago downtown does. Temples are theme parks that claim to be authentic, real explanations of what is out there.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Gall's Law

Venkatesh Rao thinks that Gall's Law is much too optimistic
A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system. 
Gall’s Law is in fact much too optimistic. It is not just non-working complex systems designed from scratch that cannot be patched up. Even naturally evolved complex systems that used to work, but have now stopped working, generally cannot be patched into working order again.
I agree. This is why reforming old, sluggish organizations is a fool's errand. It is much more beneficial to fork existing organizations and take them into completely new directions or rewrite from scratch. 

Exit, Voice and Loyalty

In any social group, members have two strategies to show dissent - Exit and Voice. They can either voice their dissent and hope for change, or they can give up and exit to a more favorable group. However, Loyalty might prevent people from showing dissent in either one of these ways. Loyal members neither voice dissent (or don't voice it strongly enough) nor leave.

But social logic is usually associative logic. Loyalty usually gets defined as not showing dissent. Anyone who exits or voices dissent is branded disloyal. Instead of Loyalty being present as an a priory notion, the idea of loyalty (or patriotism or being a team-player) is created and nurtured  to curb dissent.