Operating Dev

Blurring the line between software development and operations

Operating Dev - Blurring the line between software development and operations

Life as a Service – Can technology fully commoditize the access to our skills, thoughts, ideas – even our lives?

Image from http://purwadhikanusantara.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/cloud-world-a-service-centric-world-english/I’d like to propose a new paradigm to describe the impact of the cloud and related services on our world. I think we’re unconsciously changing our lives to adjust to a world in which many things are delivered to us as a service – that is in bits and bytes according to our needs, schedule and budget. Unfortunately we’re still not aware what its implications are and if we need to be wary of the changes or welcoming them. It seems to me we’re developing a hunger for more and more services and we’re slowly adopting service oriented lives.

It used to be that in order to get something done in our lives we had to spend considerable time to obtain and learn the tools needed for the task, prepare an environment to do the work in and then hopefully get enough time left to complete the task. But then some folks realized they can start delivering the tools and means to us so we ended up with broadcasting services like TV or radio, pizza or newspaper delivery, etc. We still had to turn on the TV and choose what to watch or open the pizza box and eat, but we no longer had to put the preparation time compared to say going to cinema or a restaurant.

Because the delivery model felt effortless — that is, we didn’t have to do much to use it, the quality of the service we were getting was not too important for the model to propagate, which was reflected in having limited choices, often of questionable value.

But then something interesting happened. The delivery got commoditized and it was no longer a driving force for adopting the model. People started paying attention to the actual service being delivered and competition created stress for quality and choice to improve. The advent of technology made another impact by making the speed of delivery almost instantaneous for many services, which has displaced many traditional services like TV with online videos and on demand streaming. Beyond that, the tools and platforms for delivering services got commoditized too so now everyone could deliver a service to anyone else.

Enter the service-based production and consumption world. If only few years ago you had been used to walking into your bank to pay your bills; buying a software license to install some useful program on your computer; buying an external drive or tape device to backup your photos; taking your computer to repair; updating your grocery shopping list on your fridge and then driving to Costco to end up buying three times more; you are likely not doing most, if not all of those things today.

Today, you may be planning your grocery list on Amazon and their Fresh service might be delivering it at your door in the morning (no more unneeded items in the basket!). The last time you visited the bank was probably over six months ago. Heck, you may not even visit your doctor to get a prescription for your cold or flu anymore and the last time you opened Microsoft Word was only because some old fashioned recruiting agency still needed your resume in .doc format.

Also, gone are the days you fretted over loosing your favorite photos from the vacation in Aruba or you couldn’t work on your overdue project since your computer’s fan started producing smoke – your photos are now safely stashed on Flickr or Dropbox and you can access your work files on Google Drive from your spare tablet or connect to your servers in the cloud using your kids’ laptop in case your own dies. Ah, yes, you also are hero at work since you got everyone to move from Microsoft Exchange to Gmail and the sales organization is now planning to migrate to Salesforce.

Your spouse in the meantime is running three blogs – one with commentary on life in general, another providing parenting advice to young couples and a third one showcasing the furniture additions to your house that seem to come and go way too often after subscribing to a service that almost feels like it buys and sells stuff for you without any control. An idea to offer consulting services as life coach – all online — and to start a small business together with the kids for hand-crafted wooden toys by letting Amazon take care of the sales and delivery is in the works too.

Funny (and for some even true) as it may be the above picture, some of us have tailored our lives to adopt to the service-orientation of the world around us. In some cases it is clear that the risk in doing so is small and the value we’re getting back is enormous. For a truly eye opening example of this try to connect with your entrepreneurial friends running a recent technology startup, if you’re not one of them or working with them, and ask them about their IT infrastructure, software licenses, backups, file management strategies, etc. More likely then not, you will learn that they don’t have any IT staff nor servers in their office, most people do their work on laptops and all of their stuff is in the “cloud”. On top, they only pay a fraction of what it would cost to put a traditional infrastructure in place, which is the reason they have been able to start the business in the first place.

The problem I want to point out is that with democracy comes responsibility. In a service-oriented world, almost anyone can offer and anyone can consume a service. This opens the door for mistakes as the world gets awash in choices and it becomes hard to recognize the snake oil, let alone figure out the true value of things. It is easy how this can impact businesses – and luckily the businesses have resources to try and control the situation by implementing policies and process. What is harder to realize is that this impacts us and our families too.

When you start substituting opening the window to plan how to dress for today with a weather app on your phone, you know things have started moving in the wrong direction. When you stop taking your kids to the movies or your spouse to a restaurant, you realize you’ve taken a substitute which value you need to question.

In trying to navigate a service-oriented world, you may have fallen prey yourself and your life might be offered as a service too – in direct ways like spreading personal information, photos and similar on social networks like Facebook or Twitter that can impact some of your future choices like employment opportunities, to subtle ways like opening the door to marketers and advertisers to influence or even make outright choices for you on the things to buy, the place to live, the school to send your kids to, even the charity to support or the community initiative to endorse.

On the other hand, just because there are risks out there on the new roads of life, it doesn’t mean we should abandon the new ways for the old ways. The key is to drive responsibly and to make thoughtful decisions and choices. For yourself and for the people around you.

I know there is irony in me writing this post. I blog, use Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, use Gmail and host my files on Google Drive and Dropbox, use AWS for work and to host various sites — including this one, use many SaaS solutions and online apps, etc. I am clear about my goal in using these services, though. I love to learn and these tools support my goal. In using them, I am reflecting on their value and influence they have on my life or work – making mistakes along the way. This type of reflection lead to this post too. I hope to get some feedback from you if you sometimes feel like the service-oriented world is changing your life in ways you have hard time to deal with. I know I do from time to time.

Note: This post is a departure from the usual topics covered in this blog. While I won’t do this much, I might write other articles in the future where life and technology are meeting and influencing each other — not necessarily always directly relevant to software development and IT. I hope you will find such thoughts worth pondering and hopefully discussing too.

  • 4johnny says:

    Excellent post Kima – got me thinking!

    In general, companies sell products and services. But products are really a means to an end, which is a service. In a way, all products are unabstracted, un-parameterized services trapped in physical form due to technological infancy, planned obsolescence, and physics.

    We can overcome these constraints. Per Marc Andreessen, “software is eating the world”. Even physics can be overcome now by 3D printing, and in the future by some application of the Higgs boson, or something else that will come flying out of the Large Hadron Collider.

    What I like to call the “Human Programming Interface (HPI)” is already happening. The workflow is the top-down decision maker, and human resources plug into it at appropriate slots (e.g., CloudFactory).

    Work continues to abstract away from labour intensity and physical constraints (e.g., Fulfillment by Amazon; Kiva robotic warehouse; Baxter adaptive manufacturing robot; and Atlas humanoids & LS3 pack-mule robots). Careers will need to shift to an independent consultant model, requiring humanistic and creative skills, and be Lean-Agile (that’s my plug :-) . But soon IBM Watson will take those jobs too.

    The ongoing oscillation of technological architecture between producer and consumer (think terminal-mainframe, client-server, tablet-cloud) is really starting to converge. We seem to be getting close to figuring out what exactly belongs where. The cloud is generalizing all services. And the client will soon be a non-instrusive wearable device (Google Glass, curved-LCD contact lenses). Per the Technological Singularity, they will inevitably be implanted in our lifetimes! It will soon be possible for you simply to think what you want (e.g., quadriplegic recently fed herself via brain-computer interface), and the cloud will be able to service it.

    Of course thinking requires inputs, and it is becoming ever increasingly difficult to separate truth from fiction (e.g., fake “Golden Eagle Snatches Kid” video). Even if it were possible, you still have a Paradox of Choice to deal with.

    In the meantime, folks will wait impatiently for full plugability – hanging out in virtualized simulations of full-service reality like Facebook and Second Life.


    February 5, 2013 at 2:43 am
    • kima says:

      Johnny, you really nicely expanded on what this article was about. I was driven by my thoughts on commoditizing the delivery of services and how today more and more people can be producers and not just consumers too. Online video was one of the innovators in this area as the threshold for making a video and publishing it was fairly low so many people with no specific technical skills could do it.

      While online video production and consumption is still a maturing field, trying to differentiate its value as a service, the focus has now shifted to social media, but I think that blinds us from the bigger picture and your thoughts are adding to what I was trying to evoke with this post – it is the problem of separating truth from fiction and the paradox of too much choice as you point out. We need to figure out how our human nature influences our cultural and personal evolution while every one of us proliferates many new services, causing us to change habits as we plug into more virtual realities.

      It is a scary but also exciting journey ;-)

      February 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm

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