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The evolution of software: 25 years in tech

I’m the ultimate tech geek. I thrive on innovation and disruption. It’s my sport. Think crazed football fan but in the tech world - that’s me. I’m all for early adoption. I was an advocate for Twitter before it was even a thing.

After 25 years in tech, I’ve seen how software has evolved, driving massive efficiencies in global economies and launching some of the largest and most valuable companies, including Apple.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that while software has managed to flip the way we work, it still has a long way to go.

Isolated workers

In its early form, software was something you installed on your big, clunky PC, which made you, as an individual, more productive. The 80s was all about spreadsheets and word processing documents where people worked in isolation and computers were not on a network or connected to anything.


Then teams started using technology to work together. The transition came in the 90s when hardware became more affordable and computers could be networked together with resources like printing and files shared between users.

As teams collaborated on email and instant messenger services, the software industry pivoted to become more about improving team efficiency.


In the mid 90s, companies realised they could use tech to be more productive and tech firms soon embarked on changing the way companies operate. Companies like Salesforce came onto the scene with massive CRM and ERP platforms that streamlined entire operations. It was a boon for productivity.


Apps arrived in the new millennium, driving sophistication and the consumerisation of software. Driven by cloud technology, big data and mobile saturation, companies begin creating software that connects people and cuts out intermediaries, completely changing traditional services. In this new era of software, emerging generations of integrated software platforms are capable of supporting different economic and service models at scale. They are disrupting and transforming entire industries.


Roll on to 2015 and this explosion of web and mobile software, together with dramatic progress in the deployment of web services, brings us to a kind of super-convergence where it is now feasible to either replicate, dis-intermediate or just plain transform entire industries through software. You don’t have to look very far to see examples of this, with Uber, Spotify or Airbnb dominating their respective markets. Yet, for these businesses to thrive, the conditions have to be right. There needed to be a combination of the Internet, cloud technology and high levels of smartphone adoption, before the true power of software could be realised. Some might call it a ‘perfect storm’.

The influence of software is no longer constrained to individuals, teams or companies. The implication is that no industry is immune from the effects of digital transformation and we're likely to see a prolonged adjustment period of say ten or twenty years where various industries (and possibly economies) are either upturned or, at best, significantly re-wired.

However, it's not all going to be gravy for the industry disruptors either, the recently turmoil faced by Uber in France is a great case in point - some industries are stitched so tightly into the fabric of society that they won't roll over easily, not without societal recrimination.

Although there will of course be bumps in the road, the last 25 years of tech have been a necessary preamble to the real software revolution. Redefining entire sectors is what’s happening now, and with Artificial Intelligence and robotics turning machines into humans, where we go from here may become even more interesting.

Gary Turner, MD, Xero

Image source: Shutterstock/TechnoVectors