The Direct Model for Software Development
I’m still reading Michael Dell’s book, and it occurred to me that in many ways what we’re engaged in is the same direct model Dell is pursuing, only for software development. It’s like a build-to-order software product shop. We only develop the things that our customers need and pay us to build, and thus we can take the guesswork out of software development, and avoid technology-driven development, where you build things and then hope customers will buy it. We cannot and do not want to force anything onto our customers, they have complete freedom to choose what software, or even what pieces of the software, they want. Here’s a quote to illustrate the point:
I like to think of the creation of the computer industry as a fable. In the beginning, there were a bunch of brilliant scientists working in laboratories and garages to build an incredible device called a computer, which could do lots of things, from numeric computation to word processing. They worked tirelessly for many years, defining and refining the prototype until finally they had something they were ready to show to the world. Since there was nothing like it, they figured it was worth millions of dollars at least, and customers would feel lucky to actually own one.
We all know how that fable ends.
As oversimplified as it may sound, the course of events depicted in my little fable is what created a technology-oriented industry driven more by the love of scientific invention than by the needs of its customers. That attitude, which was pretty pervasive in the early days, caught on to become a kind of collective habit—and, well, before you knew it, the habit became ingrained in the fundamental structure of the industry. Customers played little, if any, role in the creation of the industry’s early products. Computer developers invented great new software and hardware because they could, and the customers who needed technology paid the going rate, whether or not the features reall satisfied their needs.
It was a lose-lose proposition. Much of the technology that was created was never purchased. And customers hungry for technology were forced to order from a fixed menu of items, whether they liked it or not, in addition to assuming the high costs associated with funding all sorts of creations.
Well, that’s still to a large extent the case in the software industry when vendors get too powerful. And this is exactly what’s about to change. We are and want to be part of this.