CIO considerations for SMAC fusion

The disruptive trends of social, mobile, analytics and cloud, often termed “SMAC” or the “Nexus of Forces”, are well-recognized as essential elements of next generation IT applications. They represent a desirable, future end-state for IT applications and architectures due to their characteristics of collaborative functionality, ubiquitous access, and intelligent insights, all delivered via a flexible and scalable delivery model.

Using the popular ice hockey analogy, if the end-state is well known, the key question moves from knowing where the puck will be in the future, to knowing how to get there in the most expedient manner possible.

With this in mind, some of the key considerations for CIOs include how to effectively migrate existing applications to this new IT architecture, how to make it a part of the application fabric for new application development, and how to ensure enterprise applications retain their mission-critical characteristics where necessary.

This is a complex journey because these four disruptive trends need to be considered in combination with one another as opposed to separately as was the case for most organizations in prior years. The reason for this is that the trends are mutually re-enforcing and the fusion of the trends within specific business scenarios is even more powerful.

Some quick examples would include mobile apps delivered and supported via the cloud, big data analytics performed in the cloud and executed against social sentiment data and/or cybersecurity data, and social business apps delivered to knowledge workers via their mobile devices. Certainly, not all existing applications need all four capabilities in order to be truly effective, but increasingly, new applications need to be able to support several of these capabilities whenever required.

Another key consideration for CIOs is that although it’s known that these four trends represent the desirable, future end-state for IT applications, they’re each at different stages of enterprise adoption and within each individual trend there are specific technologies at differing stages of maturity. As an example, cloud and mobility are generally further along in enterprise adoption than big data and social computing. Gartner has estimated the size of the worldwide cloud services market to total $131 billion in 2013, whereas social computing (or social business), according to many analysts, is still currently less than a $10 billion market.

Within the cloud market, as well as the other markets, specific sub-segments of the market and specific technologies are also at varying stages. Whilst public and private cloud solutions are in the early and/or late majority, newer areas such as cloud brokering are still essentially in early adopter status. These newer areas are often much smaller in terms of overall market size, but growing rapidly. For example, MarketsandMarkets forecasts the global cloud brokerage market will grow from $1.57 billion in 2013 to $10.5 billion by 2018, representing a CAGR of 46.2%.

In addition, the underlying platform upon which many of these technologies operate is moving from IT appliances, to converged infrastructure, to fabric-based computing models. IT appliances provide packaged combinations of hardware and software with plug-and-play simplicity for very specific needs such as cloud infrastructure, security or networking. Converged infrastructures extend this concept by packaging multiple IT components such as servers, storage and networks into a single, optimized computing solution. Wikibon estimates that by 2017, nearly two-thirds of the infrastructure that supports enterprise applications will be packaged in some type of converged solution. Finally, fabric computing, which “consists of loosely coupled storage, networking and parallel processing functions linked by high bandwidth interconnects”, enables massive concurrent processing to solve large-scale computing requirements.

So as a CIO, you know where the puck is going to be in general – around the combination of the disruptive trends, what I might term “trend fusion” – but there’s a lot of activity on the playing field: different maturities of the trends, different maturities of specific technologies within the trends, and a shifting platform landscape that includes both end-user technologies such as wearable devices and data center technologies such as fabrics.

In light of this, to help prepare for these disruptions occurring within and around the well-known end-point, here are some recommendations in three areas to help with your planning:

1 – End User Perspective: Establish a plan for how the combination of trends can best empower and support your end-users. As part of this plan, determine a priority list of applications and business processes that will deliver the most business value in terms of knowledge worker productivity and customer satisfaction and revenues. Which future applications will be the killer apps for employees, customers and business partners? Ask what current business processes could be completely re-designed for this new paradigm of social, mobile, analytics and cloud? How will the introduction of wearable devices impact the range of options above and beyond what’s possible on more traditional mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets? There’s many more questions to ask, but starting from the end-user perspective helps to drive the resulting discussion and decisions.

2 – Application Perspective: Establish a roadmap for migrating existing applications to leverage one or more of the disruptive trends, and a plan in terms of the automated or partially-automated tooling that can help get you there in a rapid fashion to help cut down on excessive hours of analysis. Ultimately this gets into application portfolio management and requirements analysis in terms of knowing which applications could benefit from which features and functions enabled via social, mobile, analytics and cloud. The ability to quickly assess and modernize applications for this future end-state will be a valuable competency along with the ability to re-invent and re-design business processes and develop new applications that leverage the combination of the trends.

3 – Data Center Perspective: Establish a plan for managing across hybrid platforms as well as across hybrid clouds. As technologies such as software-defined networking, software-defined data centers and fabric-based computing models mature, you will need to not only manage across public and private cloud and traditional data center environments, but also across varied platform architectures including IT appliances, converged infrastructures and fabrics. Planning the optimal deployment environments and platform architectures for applications to run upon in the future data center, and being able to seamlessly manage across all these environments, will be another valuable competency in the years to come.

“Trend fusion” applications and architectures are important because they have compelling value propositions for both end-users and IT alike. The key issue for organizations over the next several years will be how to envision and design new applications and business processes to take advantage of these disruptive capabilities in powerful combinations, how to transform IT in terms of the end user experience, applications and data centers, and do all this while dealing with core technologies in varied stages of adoption and maturity.  

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