It is easy to understand why software that enables business functions plays such a critical role in global economies.
Any government that attaches value to economic growth, jobs, and financially uplifting the populace understands that technology – and specifically software development – is one of the more obvious means to these ends.
Software supports business functions and removes manual, menial and repetitive tasks that most ambitious people want to avoid. Software automates functions, making them fast, accurate, efficient, and easy to manage. This, in turn, makes every business more competitive.
Any business, or economy, that implements faster, easier and more accurate processes will steadily improve its financial and economic prospects every year. It will create more interesting and meaningful jobs for people, which will mean more training and a focus on adapting to changing circumstances.
Adapting to new circumstances means that a community or country will stay abreast of latest needs and trends. Software has by now established itself as a flagship activity, in any economy, to attain these ideals. The end result is an ongoing cycle that results in more wealth available for distribution, and a higher standard of living for everyone.
There are many factors that influence economic prosperity. But some activities are easy to identify, and others are more complicated and difficult to understand. Aside from direct government intervention, there are not many specific, easily defined economic activities that have potential to influence and assist every single business in South Africa. Software development is one of those activities.
Software is often used by entrepreneurs as either a primary enabler, or at least as a critical secondary enabler for new business ventures. One thing is certain: every successful business will someday need software to get to that next critical phase in its growth.
Rare is the medium or large business these days that does not rely on software and technology. If it was easy for SMEs to design, develop and implement software, it would be easier to grow and improve business prospects. We all know that SMEs are the foundation of any economy. If more SMEs could use software to help them grow up, the entire economy would be shaken into action.
We need the South African Government to recognise that software development is an expensive and risky business in South Africa. This because there are not enough competent software developers with the skills and expertise to get software written, implemented and working properly. If there was more confidence in more software developers, there would be more money invested into software development projects. This means that there would be more money invested into businesses, and into the South African economy as a whole.
The number of Computer Science graduates entering the market has decreased over the past five years. To make it worse, software developers are the most mobile professionals in the world. Every time there is political uncertainty, apathy, or general bad news, more of these valuable professionals leave the country.
Government can help by making it easy for any company to see a direct financial benefit when they invest, in any way, into education, training or the development of software for business purposes. By doing this, the cost of software development will go down, and more software developers will be introduced into the system. Altruistic or more indirect attempts at intervention do not work, and they never will, no matter how morally upright or conceptually correct they may appear.
The good news is that there are some existing, effective incentives in place, introduced by government, and for that we in the industry are very grateful. But unfortunately, and sadly because there is a lot of visible good intent, a lot of the current structures are largely ineffective or corrupt, or both. Which means that the downward spiral will continue. There are no winners.
In the interim, until we reverse the trend, we need to find quick-fix solutions. The easiest method is to entice software developers from other countries into South Africa for medium-term assignments. The exchange rate is working against us, but there are not really any other realistic options. And hopefully the Rand will only get stronger!