After so many years in technology, I find it hard to see the newest trends as completely new. I’ve become a cynic about hype. Things have cycled so many times in my career that every new fad reminds me of highly touted ‘movements’ like CORBA and artificial intelligence, and once-hot platforms like MySpace and AOL. These were concepts that seemed unbeatable in the moment before disappearing from our vocabulary. Yes, naysayers…some concepts go into hiding and live amongst us in disguise while others go on the scrap heap of technology history.
Out of sync with the mainstream
I have a theory that technology fails because it isn’t a partner to the broader technological development happening at the time that it comes to be. Taking a look at artificial intelligence, it isn’t a surprise that it struggled to gain adoption in a world where data and computing power were much more limited than today and mobile wasn’t even a gleam in the eye. MySpace came along before smartphones were ubiquitous and also before the public was ready to pull back its privacy curtains. Everything has to happen in its right moment and things that don’t align well with broader trends are out of sync with the marketplace, the ultimate arbiter of success and failure.
So how do we pick the right trends from the hype and noise? I think I found one way.
The three platforms
Last week, IDC’s Maureen Fleming and I had a conversation about IDC Chief Analyst Frank Gens concept of “The 3rd Platform” that changed my way of thinking about trends. Gens talks about there being three distinct platforms that drove innovation since the early days of computing.
According to Gens, the first platform was driven by mainframe computing, the second by client/server and the current one (the 3rd, if you lost count) by mobile, social, big data and cloud. Gens backs his theory with numbers that show that 90% of all new IT spending will be on 3rd Platform hardware and software. If his predictions are correct, and I suspect they are, technology that supports and extends the 3rd Platform is much more likely to be successful and widely adopted than technology that doesn’t add to the new ecosystem.
Bring your own platform
What makes the 3rd Platform distinct from its predecessors is the way consumers adopted social, mobile and cloud well before their workplaces. This occurred primarily because of the concurrent rise of smartphones and the 3rd Platform being the first to arrive in the age of the Internet, ubiquitous connectivity and even widespread personal use of computers. The masses had ‘computing power’ and they exercised it. That’s a cat that’s out of the bag forever.
Just like the move from mainframes to the PC, the 3rd Platform will drive changes in the workplace including where and how works gets done (and its processes) and where and how things are bought and sold. The ramifications are probably more than we can understand right now.
Even if we can’t see it all unfold, this insight gives us a good jump on the next twenty years of technology. There are thousands of consumer and industry ideas that will thrive on the 3rd Platform and every engineer, architect, product manager, marketer, sales person and C-level executive needs to understand this to be successful. Staying relevant will depend on our ability to see how the 3rd Platform creates opportunities. Just like mainframe survived the 1st Platform (along with IBM), not all technology needs to be sunset as things change. Smart companies will chart a course that makes the most use of what they have while moving quickly to where they need to be.