I have for some time tried to answer questions like «why is software important for an oil and gas company and why must we take software seriosly?»

The short answer is that software is the mean organisations have to encode their information and knowledge, and to encode it in such way that it can be used, and that the organisations that are good doing this will be more competitive than those who are less good.

If this did not convince you, please read on.

For about 5000 years ago the Sumerians invented cuneiform writing and with the writing a new profession emerged, the scribe. The job of the scribe was to capture facts, insights and the knowledge of the time and write it down so it could be consumed and used by fellow humans.

During the millenniums writing technology changed. Clay tablets was replaced by papyrus and parchment and new encodings (read languages) emerged, but the task of the scribe remained more or less the same until the general level of literacy obsoleted the role in the western part of the world.

With the electronic computer came a change. There was suddenly a need for a new class of scribes. We did not call them scribes but programmers, but in many ways their task was the same. To capture facts, insights and knowledge and encode it into computer programs so it could be used.

The main difference between the Sumerian scribe and the modern scribe i.e. software engineer or programmer is that the primary user of the writings has changed. The modern scribe writes for computers.

The analogy with the scribe positions the programmers, but why should organisations bother about storing knowledge in computer programs, and why is this more important now than it was for say 10 years ago?

The simple answer to the last question is that now computers are everywhere and they are cheap. The effect is that organisational efficiency and accuracy depends on the speed the organisation is able to encode its knowledge.

The fuel of companies such as Facebook and Netflix is the speed they are able to encode their insights in user preferences into new offerings. These companies are at the extreme end, but the same competition has now come to more traditional industries.

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