BOSTON -- Last year, analysts at the annual IDC Directions conference presaged the emergence of a “third platform” of IT, comprising social media, cloud services, “big data” and mobile devices. This year’s message? The third platform is already here.
Attendees from a wide range of industries congregated at the Sheraton Boston Hotel for Directions 2012, where analysts from the Framingham, Mass.-based company laid out their recommendations for addressing the enterprise IT trends that will shape the coming year and beyond. This year’s conference focused exclusively on the new platform, with breakout sessions on mobility, cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS), data analytics and social networking.
IDC senior vice president and chief analyst Frank Gens explained in the keynote speech that the third platform is no longer something to watch out for -- it is the current reality of business technology. On the analytics side, unstructured data use is now outpacing structured data for the first time, according to Gens. He came to the defense of big data, saying it is too often viewed as an empty buzzword. “If you think big data is just the flavor of the month, you’re clueless,” he said.
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Mobile devices and applications have also made big moves since last year. “This is the first year all spending on mobile data is higher than spending on fixed data,” Gens said. According to IDC, more than 700 million mobile devices have been shipped so far in 2012, compared with fewer than 400 million PCs.
Sandra Ng, IDC group vice president for information and communications technology in the Asia-Pacific region, pointed to mobile devices as the key to connecting with emerging markets. She gave the example of a shopkeeper in a remote Indian village who used his mobile device to order new products that improved his business as well as the quality of goods available in the village.
“The emerging market enterprises are highly competitive,” Ng said. In China, for example, which IDC predicts will be the largest global IT spender this year, younger executives coming into power have already embraced mobile and social media as essential business needs, she said.
Hybrid approach to cloud services adoption
Cloud computing was also very much on the radar at Directions 2012. IDC’s research shows that cloud spending will exceed $36 billion in 2012, with more than 80% of net new apps targeting the cloud. In an afternoon session on choosing between public, private and hybrid cloud adoption, Robert Mahowald, IDC research vice president for SaaS and cloud services, predicted that hybrid clouds -- a mixture of public and private platforms -- will become the new standard for enterprises. He cautioned attendees not to “become a Borders” and -- like the recently defunct book retailer -- resist changing their business models to embrace data in the cloud.
Enterprises today need “multiple deployment options, flexible service design and an acknowledgement of the change in your customer and partner opportunities,” Mahowald said. “And vendors will need to build and communicate their cross-cloud fabric strategy” to keep up with customer demand. “Expect all large players -- including some surprises like Sears or Wal-Mart -- to build significant integrated public and hosted private offerings across the traditional stack.
“The buyers want more. In midsize and large organizations, strategic sourcing includes more sophisticated analysis of cloud choices. SaaS, cloud and engineered systems are responses to buyer demand for technology suppliers to take responsibility for a working solution,” Mahowald explained.
Big data holds opportunities, but handle with care
Big data and analytics were the focus of a number of presentations, with IDC emphasizing the opportunities and challenges that IT vendors and users will face from the terabytes of data being collected from social media and mobile devices. “The way that we collect and use data is ultimately what decides what companies win the race going forward,” said Rick Villars, IDC’s vice president of storage and IT strategies. “For anybody dong a mobile device initiative, big data has absolutely got to be part of the solution.”
During his presentation on capitalizing on big data “hotspots,” Villars told a cautionary tale of cosmetics maker Clinique, which deployed sophisticated, Apple iPad-based retail kiosks to poll consumers about their preferences -- then neglected to collect the data. Villars concluded that the close ties between big data and cloud computing will continue to grow and he advised attendees to focus their efforts on emerging markets, where IDC expects most of the growth to be. He predicted that by around 2020, today’s leading-edge, automated production technologies, including polymer printing, will converge with big data to “change the world of manufacturing.”
Companies continue to struggle to find and train business intelligence (BI) and analytics users who also understand business issues, according to Henry Morris, IDC’s senior vice president of worldwide software and services. “What is analytics? It’s a collection of techniques,” Morris said. “The real shortage is people who can marry those techniques to a specific business problem.” He said companies that can’t build the expertise internally should consider hiring an outside service provider.
BI and analytics vendors aren’t much help because they focus their efforts on deploying software and training people to use its basic functions, said Cushing Anderson, IDC’s program vice president of project-based services. Instead, the needed expertise tends to come from academia and companies’ internal training processes. One encouraging example, according to Morris, is aerospace manufacturer Boeing, which maintains a BI competency center that provides training and other benefits in a “shared services environment.”
Successful analytics initiatives have several approaches in common, according to Brian McDonough, IDC’s research manager for analytics and data warehousing software, who interviewed 30 companies about their programs. “I thought technology would be holding people back from success,” McDonough said. “Instead, [the challenges] were all organizationally related.” Those using analytics successfully tended to provide strong training not only using the analytics software, but in finding meaning in the data, he said. “The degree of training around analytics has the biggest impact on success.” Companies with the most successful analytics efforts also brought IT and business managers together to agree on metrics and performed more frequent updating and analysis of data, according to McDonough.