Data and Software the New Durable Goods?

In talking with a neighbor, we spoke on several interesting concepts. More and more, we are moving away from manufacturing jobs and into automation and control jobs. However, fewer people are needed in automation and control, managing the robots that build things, than were needed in manufacturing. The available jobs in manufacturing, automation, and control are dropping overall. Yet, we are seeing an increase in jobs in the IT space. Security operations alone needs a million more people. Part of IT is a per-service play. The other part of IT is about creating: creating code and data for use by the code. As jobs change, so does the definition of durable goods. On the Internet, our least uttering is very durable. Does this mean data is a durable good?

Wikipedia defines a durable good as follows:

In economics, a durable good or a hard good is a good that does not quickly wear out, or more specifically, one that yields utility over time rather than being completely consumed in one use. Items like bricks could be considered perfectly durable goods because they should theoretically never wear. [Some emphasis ours.]

So if something never wears out, or even if it is not completely consumed in one use, then we have a durable good. By that definition, data would be considered a durable good, as would the software to read that data. This is the basis for “digital vellum,” a concept introduced by Dr. Vinton Cerf. Digital vellum would keep software that reads the data with the data as part of an archive. Said software would then become durable.

The data would also become durable. We are seeing that now with information from NASA and other historical and modern organizations. The data exists, and the tools to read that data are being rediscovered and, in some cases, rewritten. Yet, the data remains. To me, that implies that data is a durable good. Our economy is changing, and redefining “durable good” is becoming quite important as we buy fewer physical things and more virtual things. We are creating in a different way.

Shouldn’t anything we create be called “manufacturing,” or are we stuck on the concept of physical vs. virtual once more? Aren’t we creating value we can sell by creating software? Isn’t automation controlled by the software we create? If software created by humans controls the robots making our physical goods, then isn’t the software itself a durable good?

The definition of “durable good” applies to data and software. However, it seems not to be part of our economy at this time. We spend millions to create software. We make millions when we sell it. Software is a vital cog of our economy. There is also a massive service industry around our software, including operations, support, and the like.

Our would is changing. Our economy is changing. Shouldn’t our definitions change as well? IT is seen as part of the service industry. I would claim that part of IT is part of the service industry, but that those who program and create data are part of manufacturing. We certainly treat software development like it is part of manufacturing. That was the whole point behind The Phoenix Project, the DevOps movement, and Agile Development. Software creation is treated like manufacturing, so therefore it is.

Yet the more we automate, the greater the possibility that we will lose jobs. We know this happens. However, as we create automation, there are opportunities to find different jobs or similar jobs. We still need one million security operations people, mostly to do incident response. This number has not shrunk. We also need people to create better software: software that helps us to scale. As we scale, the number of administrators, operations, and other IT folks does not magically shrink. That number is growing.

Instead of building cars, people now build software. Can anyone build software? Anyone can program, but can everyone create? That is the real question. Will we have legions of programmers sitting at their laptop, with few people creating? This is always how it is. We architect or design a solution, assemble that solution, then sell and manage the solution. Sounds like we just built a car using software!

To you, is software and data a durable good?

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