I’d love to take a poll (feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below) on whether software should be considered a living organism in the purist biological sense. Sure, software is made up of code instead of cells, and it may have trouble finding a home in the classic taxonomic rank of biology, but it’s difficult to find any other discrepancies between software, especially at the enterprise level, and other complex organisms.
One area that enterprise software achieves its deserved classification as a living organism is in its incredible ability to evolve over a relatively short time here on earth. While the evolution of other living creations occurs at the cellular level, completely invisible to the naked eye—enterprises hoping to survive another day are evolving at a rapid pace and are undergoing massive transformations.
In May of 2013, ZDNet’s Charles McLellan took an impressive look at the enterprise’s evolution, and his reasons for its change are fairly similar to the reasons many other organisms have evolved. For example, McLellan mentions that “inherently inflexible and sluggish” enterprises have felt the need for increased agility—a characteristic certainly shared by both software, and more “traditional” organisms looking to avoid becoming lunch.
In reference to the current trend of consumerization, McLellan’s lists “user hostility” as another reason for software’s change. Daily, ongoing hostility toward a piece of software or a living, breathing animal can prove to be just as fatal, and requiring immediate change or strengthening.
But McLellan’s list of pain points felt by enterprises only tell half of the story. When evolution occurs in other living organisms, it’s the result of nature, and the environments in which these organisms exist. McLellan points to two powerful instruments of change in the natural world:
In nature, bursts of evolution occur when there are systematic changes in the environment, which impose a selective advantage on traits that mitigate their negative effects. …Another widely observed evolutionary phenomenon is adaptive radiation, where the appearance of a new trait or the colonisation of new habitat opens up novel ecological niches for exploitation.
Those in the business of building enterprise software with any hope of survival have likely seen this same evolutionary phenomenon, areas for exploitation, and selective advantage by moving similarly key “traits” and “habitats” to the cloud.
Development and test environments in particular are being shifted to the cloud in order to evolve rapidly and with a higher quality than the evolution that occurred even just a few years ago. While extinction at the plant and animal level occurs because of an inability to change at the rate needed to survive, enterprise developers and testers don’t have this same problem. The cloud allows for automation, cloning, sharing—and often at a lower cost than in the days of old.
It goes without saying that “traditional” living organisms are immensely complex, and enterprise software is no exception. In the past, living organisms had the luxury of evolving in tiny steps alongside the slow-changing world around them, but in today’s market, where nature is evolving right before our eyes, the time to evolve, quickly, is now.