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Safe and effective software

Someone recently asked me why I was working on the particular topics that I was interested in. I am afraid that in the heat of the moment I had a reasonable but ultimately lame answer (something about reducing friction in the marketplace).

In fact, the true answer is simpler and much more powerful. I want to be part of a 'professional' industry, and I believe that we are not really there yet. It is a constant source of amazement to me that there have not been any class action lawsuits against certain high profile software companies.

I like the phrase safe and effective, which describes the basic requirements for medicines of course, but should be equally applicable to software.

What would the benefits of being able to label a system safe and effective? Primarily it means that someone using the system has some assurance that the software will do what it is supposed to do, and that it wont lead you into trouble.

Of course, if you take too many aspirin, or if you misuse a software system, it can hardly fail to cause you grief: so in the end safety and effectiveness is never absolute. But we, as an industry, can do a lot better than we do today.

In the case of services, what does it take to be safe and effective?

I have written before that SOA is about action at a distance. We want to be able to use the Internet to achieve our objectives, to perform tasks. This is fundamental difference between SOA and the Web architecture (for example).

For services to be widely used it will be necessary to be able to show that they are safe and effective too.

Since it of the essence that service is about crossing ownership boundaries, about you using my system, a key piece of figuring out Safety and Effectiveness in relation to services is in being able to answer some simple questions:

  1. What is the effect of using the service? (Will it cure my disease?)

  2. Do the participants in the service have the appropriate rights in using and delivering the service? (Is the patient an appropriate target for the medicine?)

  3. What are the potential side effects of using/offering the service? (What are the complications?)



That is the heart of the problem it seems to me. And, I firmly believe that when we can reliably answer these issues in a systematic way then we will be entitled to call ourselves a profession.

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