In Praise Of Software

CA Technologies CEO Mike Gregoire explains why software isn’t the bad guy when it comes to digital innovation

In the wake of Volkswagen’s latest revelations surrounding its diesel emissions scandal, in which defeat devices and software were used to bypass environmental regulations, some are focusing on the negatives associated with software. Now phony emissions results have joined Internet bullying and electronic identity theft on the ever-expanding list of digital plagues that are corroding modern society. Yet that’s only a small part of the story. The bigger story is the remarkable degree to which software has become central to our lives and an important part of the global economy.

In today’s application economy, software runs everything from giant enterprises to our smartphones. It has upended the world of travel. The way we bank has undergone a complete overhaul as digital channels have begun to dominate the market. Teller windows and bricks-and-mortar travel agencies are becoming a thing of the past — in the same vein rotary telephones and floppy disk drives have. Most of us now buy plane tickets online, make credit card payments online, and, increasingly, even order food online.

Gregoire, Mike crop High ResCompanies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, SAP, Uber, Oracle, Airbnb, Amazon, IBM, Salesforce, Twitter, Yahoo, eBay and CA – to name a few – would not have been possible without software. These 14 companies alone employ more than a million people, and their revenues add up to more than the total GDP of Austria.

The impact of software on automotive technology provides a telling case in point. The Chevrolet Volt, for instance, uses 10 million lines of code. While history has shown that it’s possible to build electric cars without using any code at all, it is plain enough that these amazing vehicles couldn’t accomplish half of what they do without the benefit of innovative software. The new electronics in cars don’t just serve to provide us with good directions. They make our car run better. There’s a reason many cars don’t contain a carburetor anymore. A software-controlled fuel injection system can simply do the job better – adjusting fuel-air mixtures with high precision to suit a car’s speed, engine load, atmospheric conditions and operator preferences. It can easily be adjusted to optimise an engine’s operation for fuel efficiency, power or, of course, emissions.

That high level of precision and flexibility is what made it possible for a few misguided people at Volkswagen to game the system. But it is also what makes so many new technologies more cost-effective, resource-efficient and downright more powerful than their mechanical and analog predecessors.

Whenever a new technology arises, there are those who will try to adapt it to destructive or fraudulent purposes. Just as Gutenberg should not be blamed for all the dubious junk mail you receive, and the Wright Brothers shouldn’t take the rap for the confusing baggage allowance rules at discount airlines, the Volkswagen scandal doesn’t change the fact that software will continue to make the world a better place.

Michael P. Gregoire is CEO of CA Technologies.

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