Changing your car could be a metaphor for software upgrade

by admin on November 11, 2010

in Cloud Computing/SaaS

Post image for Changing your car could be a metaphor for software upgrade

This week I changed our car. It had to be done. The Freelander was in its 12th year, the transmission was on its last legs and the thought of ploughing a couple of thousand euro into the old girl just wasn’t appealing. It doesn’t help that the darned thing had all but broken down on our way to the airport last time I went to the US and was more or less abandoned on a farm. The new car – or should I say new to me but two years’ old VW Jetta, is yet another of my attempts at paying homage to German engineering. The previous attempts were with Mercedes so I guess you could call the pre-BMW engine Freelander an aberration. If you were being unkind.

Anyhoo – having driven this marvel of modern engineering for a couple of days a few observations come to mind:

  1. When in the Freelander we used to turn the music up to drown out the driveshaft howl. In the Jetta we dont need music on to drown out car/engine/road noises. It’s a bit eerie really.
  2. Jude suffers from the cold. In the Freelander that meant winter heating on full blast while I controlled my side of the car’s temperature by opening the driver’s window a crack. The Jetta has individual climate control areas that automatically¬†adjust to conditions.
  3. I’m told that the Jetta’s engine management system will tell us when it needs a service. The Freelander got its services when I could remember. Oh – and the Jetta service intervals are three times that of the Freelander, despite they’re both diesel engine cars. Plus the Jetta is a lot more miserly on fuel consumption though the exact difference has yet to be determined.

If it hadn’t have been for what was clearly a major problem with the 4WD then I’d probably still be bowling around in the Freelander, blissfully unaware that things have moved on in the 11 years since I bought said vehicle. I remember thinking that I was trading on the fact it didn’t owe me anything. That was until things started to go badly wrong. Did I mention the transmission issue comes hot on the heels of fitting two new tyres and having replaced the power assisted steering fluid pump ¬†thingy and timing chain? This wasn’t an isolated case of intensive care but an accumulation of cost I could see stretching out into the future.

I am not a petrol head. I used to be but no longer. A car to me is a convenient way to get from A to B. And like most cars, it has four wheels, gas goes in the back, I go in the front. In other words, it is a commodity where the only differentiators are comfort and service. There are parallels with accounting software.

All accounting software is based upon a commodity principle: debit and credit. It’s a system that has stood the test of time – just as the basic theory continues to inform what we think of as a motor vehicle. Even so, you wouldn’t expect a business to be running Sage Sovereign 4.3, the first piece of accounting software I ever reviewed in the public domain back in 1991. But then you would expect your software to have a life of 5,7 or even 10 years. Precisely because it is a commodity. Just like cars need fixing as they age, bugs arise, patches need applying, the software starts to creak and groan. And then something like oil prices shoot through the roof and what was once an economical car suddenly becomes a budget drain. In software terms, a new force enters the market that renders your software obsolete or expensive in comparison. That’s what’s happened with SaaS/cloud.

As I have argued for many years, SaaS changes everything. It isn’t just a different delivery model as some would have you believe. That’s part of it for sure but it is a minor part. It is the transformational nature of SaaS/cloud that makes the difference. And so it is with the Jetta. Two of the three things I mention above were surprises to me. I didn’t know about them until AFTER I bought the car. I knew about the first one from the test drive. See? Even I don’t do enough of my own research at times. ;) It was only when I really needed to make the change that I saw the benefits of the ‘new.’ Software can be a bit like that. We don’t always appreciate what can be done until we sit down and take a look at alternatives. But just as I was blissfully unaware of technology advances in the car, I suspect many who don’t ‘get’ SaaS/cloud are equally unaware. I wonder what it will take for them to see and appreciate the differences? Maybe someone will steal this comparison idea and make it their own.

Aside: You can argue that the need to shell out a tidy sum is no different today than it was all those years ago. True. But then I didn’t say the metaphor works all the way.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Jon Stacey November 11, 2010 at 9:48 am

Dennis – couldn’t agree more – I spoke last night in Cardiff on the transformational power of the “cloud” and it’s ability to drive disruptive innovation (see http://www.rileycom.co.uk/cms/?p=552) – it’s a topic which was greeted with amazement by those in the profession who personally admitted that their current model wasn’t working and that it was IT which had held them back.

As they say, “keep on banging on”.

dahowlett November 11, 2010 at 9:57 am

I think you need to be very careful when talking about disruptive innovation. It is usually applied to software companies. The existing practices face very different problems

Jon Stacey November 12, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I was actually talking about software and the opportunities that are available for practices because of disruptive innovation in software companies. The fact that this exposes issues with exiting practices such as fear or change, lack of imagination etc is as you say, a different issue.

dahowlett November 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm

That’s a fair point Jon. The issue is best understood by looking at which practices are using the new SaaS solutions. It ain’t (by and large) the old guard but the new types of business that are emerging. In other words it is a management problem

Jon Stacey November 11, 2010 at 9:48 am

Dennis – couldn't agree more – I spoke last night in Cardiff on the transformational power of the “cloud” and it's ability to drive disruptive innovation (see http://www.rileycom.co.uk/cms/?p=552) – it's a topic which was greeted with amazement by those in the profession who personally admitted that their current model wasn't working and that it was IT which had held them back.

As they say, “keep on banging on”.

dahowlett November 11, 2010 at 9:57 am

I think you need to be very careful when talking about disruptive innovation. It is usually applied to software companies. The existing practices face very different problems

Jon Stacey November 12, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I was actually talking about software and the opportunities that are available for practices because of disruptive innovation in software companies. The fact that this exposes issues with exiting practices such as fear or change, lack of imagination etc is as you say, a different issue.

dahowlett November 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm

That's a fair point Jon. The issue is best understood by looking at which practices are using the new SaaS solutions. It ain't (by and large) the old guard but the new types of business that are emerging. In other words it is a management problem

Rtetlow November 11, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Know what you mean. But a software upgrade implies your upgrading your software to a new version of the same software (at least to me). Akin to having a car serviced.

More accurately and in this context: “Changing your car could be a metaphor for software upgrade” should read “Changing your car would be a metaphore for replacing your software”.

Couldnt agree more though.

John Cheney November 11, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Hi Dennis, I like the article and I think you are right your story is an anology for software/SaaS.

What’s also interesting is you only started looking to change when you had a problem with you Freelander. I suspect no matter how many ‘glossy car flyers’ you have received or calls from car salesmen, you wouldn’t have been compelled to look for change until what you had was broken enough.

That’s one of the fundimental challanges with the SaaS accounting market, for the majority of accountants their Sage Line 50 implementation isn’t broken enough to want to drive change.

Rtetlow November 11, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Know what you mean. But a software upgrade implies your upgrading your software to a new version of the same software (at least to me). Akin to having a car serviced.

More accurately and in this context: “Changing your car could be a metaphor for software upgrade” should read “Changing your car would be a metaphore for replacing your software”.

Couldnt agree more though.

John Cheney November 11, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Hi Dennis, I like the article and I think you are right your story is an anology for software/SaaS.

What's also interesting is you only started looking to change when you had a problem with you Freelander. I suspect no matter how many 'glossy car flyers' you have received or calls from car salesmen, you wouldn't have been compelled to look for change until what you had was broken enough.

That's one of the fundimental challanges with the SaaS accounting market, for the majority of accountants their Sage Line 50 implementation isn't broken enough to want to drive change.

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