This editorial was was originally published on Mar 21, 2017. It is being republished as Steve is on holiday today.
I have seen more than a few people note that every company is a software company. Or that every company should be a software company because software is becoming so important. I'm not sure that's true. My mechanic certainly uses software, and he competes well with other businesses by tracking my car, reminding me of issues, and keeping in contact through integration between his point of sale system and some sort of email management software. However, this is a small shop, probably less than 20 employees, and I'm not sure they're ever going to be in the business of software. They are consumers, and they need support, but they aren't in the software business. My wife's company is similar. She needs a website, needs to schedule events and take payments, but she's not going to develop software to help her. Nor am I going to write code, because that might be a never-ending job.
It's easy to get out of touch and think that many larger companies need to be software companies. That might be true for some businesses, especially when they need to manage some infrastructure, but for many smaller businesses, I'm not sure that's the case. Software is critical to small medical practices and retail stores, and service people, but only as a tool. Not as something they'd want to maintain or even customize beyond a simple look and feel.
Is that true for data? If many companies aren't software companies, are they data companies? I think so. Data is important, and having some way to look at data and manage it becomes important for them to run their business well. My wife struggles with data, but realizes that managing her mailing list and tracking the contacts is valuable. It's hard, and her bits are stored in disparate applications, but she recognize the value of data. The same for my mechanic. They've seen plenty of value in treating a string of disparate transactions from me across multiple cars as those from a single customer. They also have learned that finding software to understand me as a customer, as well as string together recommendations and past work on single vehicles allows them to provide better service.
Many companies want to track us through email, phone, or some other identification data because they realize that many people have come to expect a business to know something about us. We might not like them sharing or selling that data, but we do want to them to provide a better experience for us. I'm still surprised when there's good integration between disparate systems, or a customer service call allows the company to recognize something about me and provide more value. I believe my kids and future generations will expect this to always be the case, shunning companies those that don't provide customization.
I worry about data security, data privacy, data integrity, and more, but I do also think that as more companies realize that they are data companies, and data drives many of their interactions, they will see data as more valuable. What they do with that, I'm not sure, but I can only hope they start to treat our data as a valuable resource worth protecting.