Why Software Should Not Be Grouped Under Information Technology (IT)

My first programming instructor told the class one day:

“Technology is like floating on a river, and every so often you have to open your wallet and pay someone to stay afloat.”

Partly it is nobody’s fault. Change is constant in this rapid technological boom we are living through. Hardware is getting “better” all the time. Software is to blame just as much as hardware and the two are interconnected. Some change may be attributed to products designed for obsolescence that more or less serve the same function from version to version, with slightly different menus. Companies that make those products must keep up with change too and pass the cost to their customers.

In spite of the cost, many a fanboy/fangirl lay awake at night, excited for the new features coming in the next version of X!! Businesses on the other hand are squeezing everything they can out of their current legacy systems and would prefer not to upgrade. Experience teaches that businesses will eventually be forced to upgrade or risk drowning in the river.

A business leader who is also not a technology expert will recognize the ‘technology river’ and fall prey to a serious mistake. Businesses have Information Technology (IT) departments that run their ‘technology’. Typical IT responsibilities include printers, desktops, networking, and a hodgepodge of applications, databases and platforms. Miles of cables, blinking LED lights, email, and the occasional beep or fan noise is what IT has domain over. Keeping all that running is an ongoing cost. Therefore, IT takes away from profit. Even more insulting, IT is a barrier to growth because more IT is always needed for each hire, each facility, each process. IT is overly complex and can cause huge fires for the business, so it can’t be trusted. IT does nothing to help the business get an edge. The leaders think the tactics that make their business succeed should be applied to IT and software.

The serious mistake non-technical business leaders make, as I so non-nonchalantly committed at the end of the previous paragraph, is to group IT and software into the same area.

The natural role of software in a business is to make money and beat out the competition. The impact to the bottom line from software is completely opposite that of IT! For example, an optimization to a workflow process may take a few days to code, test, document, and deploy. Its unborn potential is to shave a few seconds off millions of orders yet to be processed. The economics of software done right is a pleasant sight to behold. The raft is not sinking anymore, it is flying across the water!

Lowering costs through software innovation are welcome. That says nothing to the greater potential of software to give a company a market edge or to reduce risk.

One of the reasons I love software and get so excited about is it is one of the few ideas known to our civilization that can so easily magnify its initial investment. There are no physical atoms to move, no chemical process to undergo, and if you are lucky no regulations or idealogical debate in the way. Sure there are electrons, packets, and physical storage, but those work out to be rounding errors. Many intellectual works share this property, such as music, writing, art… A bleak world it would be without these things. At this point in history software can be applied to just about any business and make an immediate impact!

What the world needs is a bright glowing line that delineates between initiatives that keep things running, and initiatives that magnify themselves to make profit. If that line were there leaders would stop grouping software into IT. In my career I have fought to stay on the profit generating side of the line, no matter what kind of work I was doing for whom. The reason is, if you follow the money, the more interesting and better paying projects will be found there. Working in a “cost center” is depressing. Working in a “profit center” is awesome.

I have seen this confusion happen over and over again in my career (software grouped with the cost center, vs software being treated independently as the profit center it should be). Software developers themselves often don’t see the distinction, or are not expected to care, which is unfortunate. I wish it were an amendment to the constitution, or at least added to the Joel TestAre developers grouped under IT?

Again, can we all please stop grouping software under IT?

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