Info-tech

Explore innovation potential in software

D. Murali | Updated on June 19, 2011

Navneet Bhushan   -  Business Line

Software-based changes are giving us a new functionalityevery day.   -  Business Line

Go for successful creation of change by ideas.



The time has come for the Indian IT (information technology) companies to start defining the ‘what' part of software innovation triangle, urges Navneet Bhushan, founder-director of Bangalore-based Crafitti >( >http://bit.ly/F4TNavneet >B). He sees this, however, as a challenge since the existing IT companies have been winning by continuing to be in the ‘how' part of software innovation.

“Now we need to move towards the ‘what' part and one solution that I can see and offer is Lean Inventive Systems Thinking (LIST) – a potent framework combining analytical and logical thinking with three different forms of thinking to own the future,” adds Navneet, during a recent interaction with Business Line on the sidelines of a SPIN ( >www.spinchennai.org) event in the city.

Excerpts from an email interview.

First, what is software innovation? And, why is it important?

Before getting to “software innovation,” it is important to revisit ‘what is software'. Software has been defined as instructions and data structures (computer programs) that, when executed on a machine, provide the desired function and performance along with documents that describe the operation and the use of programs. The essence of software entity has been described by Brooks in his classic The Mythical Man-Month, as complexity, conformity, changeability and invisibility that make it inherently difficult to build. Further, unlike hardware, software doesn't “wear-out,” rather it evolves by addition of new functionality.

Now, let us look at software innovation. To me, a very useful definition of innovation is successful creation of change by (new) ideas. Combining the above, software innovation has to be successful creation of change by new ideas in developing computer instructions, data structures and associated documents. This should include how to develop software, how to evaluate software, and also what software to develop to achieve the desired functionality and performance to meet a need or set of needs. I call this the software innovation triangle — the two “how's” and one “what” of software innovation.

Coming to the importance of software innovation, software has transformed our world in multiple ways than many of us would even comprehend. In my book, Strategic Decision Making – Applying the Analytic Hierarchy Process, I have described technology to be the most important factor defining the structure of the current and the future world, besides the factors such as power systems, geo-political systems, social systems, economic systems and forms of organisation. Starting from our mobile phone or rather mobile device — it is the inherent software-based changes that are giving us a new functionality every day.

How are large tech enterprises approaching software innovation?

I mentioned three key parts of the software innovation triangle — creating successful change in “how to develop software,” “how to evaluate software,” and most important “what software to develop.” The large tech organisations are grappling with how to use software to solve client problems, provide new ways of achieving key functions, faster, better and cheaper. In this regard, the relevant infrastructure needs to be developed. The inherent software in infrastructure (IT or non-IT) needs to be a creator of change. Also, managing the inherent information complexity that has been enmeshed in the large organisations needs to be either untangled or made useful. All these require software innovation.

The product development companies protect the “what software to be developed” part of the software innovation triangle. They define, describe, contextualise, get IPRs (intellectual property rights), and then get to the development part. In the “how to develop software,” they look for in-house software development structures, outsource to another organisation, or look for open source development.

Finally, in the third part — “how to evaluate software” — which also includes software testing, measurement, metrics, reliability and other quality metrics, they look for in-house or third-party software evaluation. In all the three, they would like to look at software innovation per se. The large IT development companies are looking at “how to develop software” and “how to evaluate software”.

Specifically, Indian IT companies are focused predominantly on the “how” part of software innovation triangle. Indian IT companies need to focus on the “what” part of the software innovation triangle, as it not only has more value but it is that leg that one can protect by ways of IP rights as well.

Do you see software innovation happening in smaller enterprises, too?

Historically, large enterprises have innovation-inertia. The next software change — be it something that SAP, Dell, Amazon, Wikipedia and Google did in the 1990s, or Skype, Facebook and Twitter did in the last decade — will most likely be created by smaller enterprises. What these companies did was the “what” part, hence their valuation and value created by them was much more than, say, companies that were focusing on the “how” parts of the software innovation triangle.

What do you see as the major challenges faced by software innovation?

Scale is the first challenge. We are making big systems and these large systems are evolving into humungous systems.

The methods, principles, capabilities one uses to make systems at a particular scale are found insufficient when the scale increases and complexity explodes.

The glue that is making systems huge and evolving into higher and bigger forms is software.

Since software is the glue, “what” software to build to solve world problems pertaining to sustainability, harmonising global economic imbalances, creating a connected future for the globe and minimising terrorism causes and impacts, are the key challenges.

Any suggestions on a framework that can promote software innovation?

Surprisingly, despite the 150-year-old proposal by Darwin, “evolution” as a model of reality is a recent phenomenon. That the technical systems, just like living beings, also evolve was discovered by a Soviet engineer, Altshuller, in 1946, after studying scores of patents in multiple domains. He used this study to propose a Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (acronym TRIZ in Russian).

> dmurali@thehindu.co.in

Published on June 19, 2011

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