Why business is eating software
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Ten years ago this August, the renowned Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen’s essay entitled “Software is eating the world” was published in The Wall Street Journal. To say he has been proved right by events since then is an understatement. Yet the acceleration in the adoption of digital technologies during the pandemic may have surprised even him.
Businesses either sink or swim depending on their effective investment in digital tools. No one can afford to ignore the impact of technology. And it is better to be the disruptor than to be disrupted.
At Ground Control we have seen this for ourselves. We began investing heavily in technology more than 15 years ago as a way to improve our service delivery and overall customer experience. We built our own systems, including TotalView, a data platform offering live image reporting, with before and after images of the work we do for customers, as well as automating and assessing project risks and compliance.
Now integrated with off-the-shelf software, both on-premise and in the cloud, these tools have become the backbone of Ground Control’s administration and planning. The software helps us to manage large customer sites and deliver consistent service in a cost-effective manner.
Given the software works well, it would be tempting to keep using it in its current form. We are not a software company, after all. Yet we know we cannot afford to stand still. By developing and adopting new tools the business can scale.
Software is my background so I am a fully paid up, card-carrying convert. When I joined Ground Control as non-executive chairman two years ago, I prioritised a review of our technology to see what more could be done. We brought in an expert consultant who shone a light on what we were doing well and where we could improve, and helped us to create a road map to where we needed to be.
When I was selling software I knew that to win the support of a business customer it must do at least one of four things (and ideally all four): save money, save time, grow revenues and improve customer experiences. Upgrading IT systems costs time, money and energy and so it is crucial that it makes a meaningful difference.
We are planning to double our revenues to more than £250 million over the next five years and to do that we have doubled down on our investment in technology. In addition to spending more on software, we are evolving the roles we have within the business to make sure they have a technology bent. For example, our project management and product management skills and processes all need to be upgraded. We want to start to build the mindset of a technology company.
Above all, we want to use technology to reduce waste and carbon emissions and drive the business towards its net-zero carbon goals. This has to include measuring and managing supply chain carbon emissions, through the Carbon Trust’s Scope 3 standard, something which Tom Cumberlege from the trust says is “crucial to all forms of climate change activity”.
New technologies such as AI, drones and augmented reality could help us to become more efficient and launch new services. I know from experience that one of the biggest risks with adopting new technology is mission creep. Another is buying more advanced technology than you actually need. It is also tempting to believe the technology will be able to deliver more than it can.
We have to be mindful of this, but remain brave and innovative. Software is not eating our business: it is the differentiator that is feeding our ability to achieve our future financial and ethical goals.