I have quibbled with the assertion that every company is a technology company, noting that every great enterprise has embraced the latest methods and techniques to get ahead of the competition. What I’m coming to understand is that in order for a company to be relevant these days, it must have a major commitment to software. And that’s new, a confluence of multiple trends from organizational structure to talent management.
As an example, consider the penetration into the industrial economy of the collaboration software company GitHub, based in San Francisco. GitHub provides a radically new way for programmers to communicate with each other and also a platform for them to share appropriate examples of their work with programmers outside their companies. It’s part of what GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath calls a “post-career world.” Programmers want to work together on their company’s projects and to be known to their fellow programmers. GitHub offers them a way to do both. “GitHub was designed for the whole world and scales down to the single team,” Wanstrath says.
The “whole world” is a reference to the open-source software community, which pools its code to help each other. Remarkably, software groups at big companies are using GitHub. That includes teams at Target, John Deere, and GE, the company says. GitHub charges users for their private collaborations while keeping their open-source sharing free. A few years ago it created an enterprise version. Venture heavyweights Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital are two of the company’s biggest backers.
An even newer software company is targeting a similar market. Seerene, a spinoff of the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany, a science university started by the SAP founder, is selling a software analysis tool to big companies. “Our software allows users to analyze how their software is being deployed,” says Oliver Muhr, Seerene’s CEO. He says understanding how software from all over the company is used yields quick efficiency gains.
On Tuesday, Seerene will announce a $5 million investment from Earlybird, a venture firm based in Berlin. Muhr’s goal for the cash is to expand Seerene’s user base beyond the European industrial giants that are its first users.
In separate interviews on successive days in San Francisco last week the CEOs of GitHub and Seerene told me their company’s products eventually will help other CEOs—including those with no technical background—understand the effectiveness of their company’s software projects. That’s cool. And important too.
The headline on my essay last Friday angered more than a few readers associated with the Tipping Point Community, and I regret that for three reasons. First, it detracted from the impactful work Tipping Point is doing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Second, Tipping Point’s benefactors come from numerous local industries, notably finance. Third, whatever my perspective on the excesses of the tech community, the techies who support Tipping Point at the very least are trying. They deserve a pat on the back, not a rap on the knuckles.
BITS AND BYTES
Obama calls on tech industry to police social media. In his televised address Sunday evening about domestic terrorism, the President suggested social media giants—think Facebook and Twitter—should play a larger role in digital surveillance against potential threats. The industry has largely resisted calls for weaker encryption that would assist with government monitoring, saying this would make their software more vulnerable to hackers. (Reuters)
Yahoo board mum on spinoff intentions. The company’s directors concluded a three-day meeting last Friday, but the fate of Yahoo’s plan to divest its $31 billion stake in e-commerce giant Alibaba is still in limbo. The transaction was supposed to close by January 2016, but the Yahoo’s board is mulling other options, including an activist investor’s proposal to sell off its core email, media and advertising businesses. (Fortune, New York Times)
Microsoft will create antitrust compliance office. In April 2014, two shareholders sued former CEOs Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer along with Microsoft’s board and several other executives. Their complaint blamed these individuals for the $732 million fine levied by the EU in March 2013 for violating conditions of their 2009 antitrust settlement. A settlement disclosed late Friday sets aside $42.5 million for an internal antitrust compliance team. (Computerworld)
No clear winner in net neutrality case. The three-judge panel considering the telecommunications industry’s appeal of utility-style regulations for Internet and broadband services had tough questions for both sides. That suggests neither side will be happy with the eventual outcome. The FCC says the rules are necessary to guarantee a level competitive playing field, but service providers argue they stifle innovation. (New York Times, Wall Street Journal)
Toshiba can’t catch a break. Japanese regulators have suggested a record fine of $59 million related to the company’s accounting scandal, which forced it to write down almost $1.2 billion. (Wall Street Journal)
Microsoft makes dent in Apple tablet dominance. During the month of October, online sales for Microsoft’s latest tablet computers, the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book hybrid device, outstripped those for Apple’s iPad series. Apple leads for the past 12 months, with a 34% share compared with Microsoft’s 19%, according to analytics company 1010 data. (Fortune)
Why memory and mimicry are the next big frontiers in artificial intelligence
Computers have figured out facial recognition and how to recognize what you’re saying. Both of these “skills” will continue to get better over time, but the algorithms and basic research challenges behind them have mostly been fixed. The new challenge? Helping computers learn to achieve a goal. This requires two bleeding-edge skill sets that enable a computer to complete an action, then teach it that it was the right thing to do when it produces the correct results. Both Google and Facebook are showcasing breakthroughs as is newly funded deep learning software startup Osaro. (Fortune)
MORE FORTUNE TECH COVERAGE
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has an insane severance package
by Dan Primack
Silicon Valley is not a job creator by Chris Matthews
Coming soon: Ethics training for data scientists by Barb Darrow
Snapchat’s move into real-time news is fascinating by Mathew Ingram
Top VC says gene editing is riskier than artificial intelligence
by Stacey Higginbotham
This is the best Apple “spaceship” drone video yet by Philip Elmer-DeWitt
HP Enterprise and EMC are still the storage kings by Jonathan Vanian
ONE MORE THING
Talk to the animals. Researchers are outfitting service dogs with computerized vests that could allow them to “speak” in emergency situations. (Wired)