Amid trillions of metrics, your software is trying to tell you something

In 2011, Marc Andreessen proclaimed that “software is eating the world.” Several years later, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single industry immune to the pervasive, transformative influence of software.

As consumers, we use it to summon transportation, track fitness trends, order food and book lodging. As businesses, we rely upon it to communicate with partners, produce and transport goods, and sell to our customers. It is so ingrained in our everyday lives that we often don’t recognize we’re using it at all.

So if all of that software suddenly stopped working, the impact would be crippling. Transportation, commerce and manufacturing would grind to a halt, and without a functioning cellular network, communication would as well. Millions of businesses would be unable to communicate with their customers and employees, sell goods and process payments and deliver on their business promises.

In this new world, software is the common denominator for every business in every industry. It sits at the intersection of our innumerable businesses functions, practices and relationships, poised to intercept staggering amounts of data every single second. And as that information is collected — at the rate of more than 200 billion metrics per day — it is also the responsibility of software to store, organize and present this sea of data in a way that can be readily applied to both the technical and the practical sides of business.

So when every company is in essence a software company, the question is no longer, “What would happen if my applications aren’t working?” The question now must be, “What is my software trying to tell me?”

Data has the power not only to protect our businesses, but to actively empower them to behave in more efficient, more effective and more transparent ways. And by tracking and analyzing this data in real-time, we have an opportunity to ask complex questions of our software, such as: How many people are using my application right now? Who are our top customers at risk for churn? What is the uptake of our newest product?

For years, though, this enormous collection of data — and the insights held within it — has remained the property of a select few: companies with large enough IT budgets to staff data scientists, software engineers, computer programmers and other experts. Even then, when business leaders had questions, results could take days and follow-up questions longer. And uncovering actionable information in a data explosion of this scale is like finding a needle in a haystack.

So, how do we begin this next chapter in our software-defined world? How do we guarantee that a force as impactful as big data is just as powerful in the world of analyzing software? The answer is through the democratization of data. (I’ll be talking more about this at Gigaom’s Structure Data conference this week in New York City.)

I believe that every data point collected by software is part of a larger story, and that the lessons from that story have a real-world application for people in every modern business, no matter its size. I believe that companies headquartered in a basement somewhere should have the same tools available to them as companies with a sprawling office park in Silicon Valley. The introduction of the cloud made that a possibility. New software analytics tools developed for the cloud make it a reality.

When data is a common resource that is readily accessible, simply organized and elegantly presented, its true potential is unlocked — and unlocked equally — for all modern businesses. It changes the way businesses can operate and it improves the user experience for their customers. And by transferring ownership of this data back to the people, it is empowering an entire ecosystem of developers to ask more questions, discover new insights and make better decisions for their companies.

Data is not just for the scientists and the programmers. The way I see it, we are all data nerds.

Lew Cirne is the founder and CEO of Software Analytics company New Relic and is recognized as the creator of the multi-billion dollar application performance management market. Follow him on Twitter @sweetlew.