AP Photo/Thomas Watkins
FEATURED IN TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
It used to be that all the programs you used were installed on the computers where you used them. Whether they were dispatch, tracking or records management; accounting, inventory or collaboration; or personal programs, like Internet Explorer, word-processing or presentation-creation—there was a time when someone had to deploy the software on a computer in order to be able to use it.
That was only three or four years ago.
Believe it or not, the whole software landscape has changed in what seems like no time. So much, in fact, that now it can be hard to recognize software when you see it. For example, is Google, the search site used by a billion web users worldwide, software? This sounds like a silly question, but Google is an illustrative example because the site has started to act more like software, especially in the past year. Google.com has more features, interacts with you in a more live fashion and directly uses the data stored on your computer more and more often. This behavior is what you expect from software you’ve installed—except that you never installed Google. You just visited it.
The point of thinking about Google is to understand two things about software. First, there are many ways of using a computer to be productive, perform your work or follow procedures in your organization that no longer require a deployment process that takes up time and effort. These capabilities can pretty much just show up when needed—like Google’s site does when you access it—or, if they do have to be installed, are installed on the fly—like WebEx when you attend an online meeting. (If you want to know what “cloud computing” really is, this is it.)
Instant availability of software allows you and your organization to be much more versatile. You can literally think of something you need to do, go to your phone, find it in the app store or market, and start using it in minutes. The fact that it’s a “mobile app” running on a phone makes it no less software than a program installed on a PC, because most mobile apps can synchronize work with a personal computer designated by the user, as well as integrate with completely separate software running on corporate systems.
The second reason it’s helpful to look at the Google example is that instant availability of software means people are using much more of it, and in many more places. Software is finding its way into every corner of the modern company and agency, almost on its own, as people browse the Web or use their smartphones.
Of course, a phrase such as “almost on its own” sounds rather dangerous—or at least it ought to. The last thing you want is operations that run far outside of your control. Here’s the problem, though: It may also be risky not to allow the use of Web- or smartphone-based software. It’s where the community has moved: online and on the go. To serve that community means moving along with it.
So in the end, the best approach is to measure the risk of using these new “instant availability” models against the lost opportunities that come from not using them. Recognizing this tradeoff is the necessary foundation of any good software strategy today. For more information on getting started, check out www.SafeGov.org and visit www.FBI.gov/about-us/cjis.
Guy Currier is Executive Director for Research at Ziff Davis Enterprise and has worked in technology publishing and marketing for over 17 years, specializing in application development models, distributed computing productivity and mobility.