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Supply chain

Software is eating up the restaurant business and that’s just for starters

IbyIMD+ Published 16 September 2021 in Supply chain • 7 min read • Audio availableAudio available

The rise of GrubHub and Deliveroo is changing the way we eat, but it also heralds a radical shift in the way we understand the economy.

In August 2011, Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and co-founder of Netscape, published a widely read essay in the Wall Street Journal titled, Why Software is Eating the World. He argued that we were “in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy”.

“Over the next 10 years,” he added, “I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.”

A decade later, Andreessen’s vision has come true. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have transformed how companies raise capital, recruit and manage labor, engage their suppliers and distribution channels, and coordinate their internal activities. In the next 10 years, we may see the company itself evaporate in favor of software-based coordination, as the basic categories we use to understand the economy (for example, employee, firm, industry and nationality) fall apart.

We are starting to see this in perhaps the oldest industry of all: restaurants. Accelerated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of app-based food delivery services, the restaurant industry may be a portent of a future without firms.

The pervasive spread of the smartphone since 2007 has meant that much of our social life is intermediated by a screen. The pandemic greatly accelerated this shift, particularly during lockdowns, as much of the population went to work or attended school via Zoom, and shopped through Amazon, Doordash or Deliveroo. Those of us living in Silicon Valley grew accustomed to checking the air quality index and COVID-19 prevalence rates before leaving the house. Our knowledge of the world outside our door often came exclusively from apps.

In the next 10 years, we may see the company itself evaporate in favor of software-based coordination, as the basic categories we use to understand the economy fall apart
US restaurant industry employment

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