Third platform of IT goes mainstream at IDC Directions 2013

Convergence of cloud computing, mobility, social media and big data were again the focus of annual IDC conference.

BOSTON -- For the third year in a row, discussions of mobility, big data, cloud computing and social media -- the technologies that make up what IDC analysts call the "third platform" -- filled the agenda at Wednesday’s IDC's Directions 2013 conference. This year, however, a new, bolder message was clear right from the opening keynote: the third platform is no longer just an emerging tech trend, it's become the main focus of the IT industry.

"The third platform is now the only IT marketplace that matters," Frank Gens, IDC's senior vice president, chief analyst and opening keynote speaker, told nearly 1,000 attendees from the realms of IT, telecommunications and consumer technology who came to the Hynes Convention Center. The proof, he added, is in the numbers. Twenty-five percent of IT spending so far in 2013 has been on the "intelligent industry solutions" of the third platform, and that spending shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, IDC predicts that by 2020, likely 60% of IT spending will be on cloud, social, mobility and big data technologies, with third-platform revenue projected to grow by 12% each year for the next seven years. By comparison, second platform spending -- referring to technologies such as PCs and Ethernet connectivity -- is only growing by about 1% year over year, according to Gens. In light of this, organizations that have yet to move their IT budgets from the second to the third platform have a lot of catching up to do.

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"For the last few years, we as an industry could afford to explore [the third platform], but just dipping our toes in the water isn't enough anymore," he said. "If you aren't competing for that new growth, really, you aren't even in the IT industry."

Companies must also rethink how they view dedicated IT services, Gens said. For example, a recent IDC survey of IT executives found that 45.5% of corporate IT will be delivered through the cloud in the next year, with 65% of that in private cloud and 35% in public cloud platforms. While this shows that most companies are still hesitant about moving to the public cloud, Gens said that an increasingly popular model is the "virtual private cloud" -- a multi-tenant platform that combines the security and control of private cloud services with the lighter price tag of shared systems. He added that the types of workloads that are most commonly moved to the cloud -- email and collaboration systems, mobile applications and data management -- mirror the third platform itself.

For manufacturers, a major goal of third platform spending should be exploiting mobility's capabilities beyond smartphones and tablets, according to Gens. By 2016, a projected 5 billion intelligent devices will be shipped, and these could include innovations like cloud-connected cars, intelligent microscopes for science and healthcare, and Bluetooth-enabled traffic monitoring equipment.

The growth of the third platform will leave companies with important questions in coming years, Gens concluded. "You need to ask yourself, 'Am I aligning my IT strategies around the new normal of shared systems?'" he said. "Am I expanding my view of what the edge of the mobile network will be?'"

Mobility takes center stage

Mobile computing continued to hog the spotlight at the keynote and for the remainder of the conference. Breakout sessions tackled how to turn the promise of mobility into business value and build the IT infrastructure to support it, especially the cloud, social media and big data systems that will send and receive the information. As the locus of power thereby moves to the individual, IT departments will have to shift their focus to managing the underlying data centers, cloud services, and heterogeneous platforms, according to several IDC analysts. 

In fact, “mobile equals cloud equals social,” claimed Bob O’Donnell, IDC’s program vice president for clients and displays. O’Donnell suggested the era of bring your own device (BYOD) will soon be overtaken by BYOA -- bring your own app., as application programming interfaces (APIs) increasingly provide employees access to individualized views of corporate data. Meanwhile, the third platform will give rise to the "personal cloud," according to O'Donnell. “Personal cloud is going to be very important to enable you to use all of your devices in a personal way,” he said.

Analysts John Jackson and Leslie Hand gave examples of organizations such as Home Depot that have significant enterprise mobility initiatives, evaluating them by an IDC maturity model that ranges from ad-hoc mobility through repeatable architectures to fully optimized ones. Hand advised attendees to jump into enterprise mobility right away, even if only with a pilot, and to expect to build a mobile foundation that will support innovation and renewal for years to come. Jackson assured IT managers that they are “arguably no less relevant” in the coming shift to enterprise mobile ecosystems.

Steve Drake, IDC’s program vice president for mobile enterprise, then fleshed out the details of such an ecosystem. He described today’s world of multiple operating systems and platforms from Apple, Google, Samsung and BlackBerry -- and more recently Windows Phone and HMTL 5 -- and said it is likely to continue indefinitely. IDC expects enterprise apps and content to be “king” in 2013, creating a new demand for mobile management systems that go beyond devices to include corporate content, data and applications. Security concerns will increase, too, Drake said, citing a Kaspersky Labs study that claimed 98.6% of mobile malicious code started from Google’s Android operating system. “Android’s presence in the enterprise will grow,” he said, adding that IDC expects it to represent 60% of all “employee liable” phones by 2016.

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