'Third platform' shift triggers enterprise software evolution

Enterprises are moving to an IT environment where information is served to connected smart mobile devices from a cloud-based infrastructure system, and software vendors have to adapt to stay competitive.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

As companies in Asia-Pacific and the rest of the world navigate through the various tech trends sweeping through the enterprise arena, it is the move toward the 'third platform' where workloads are now done via connected, smart mobile devices and supported by a cloud-based server infrastructure that stands out.

The shift to the new mode of IT deployment and delivery is, in turn, impacting the way enterprise software vendors develop and sell their products to organizations, industry watchers say.

Daniel-Zoe Jimenez, program manager of big data & analytics and next-generation enterprise applications at IDC Asia-Pacific, told ZDNet Asia that there are four key tech trends currently influencing the overall business landscape — big data and analytics, cloud computing, mobile and social. These are changing the way IT infrastructure, software and services are being deployed, funded and managed, he said.

"As we move toward the third platform, most enterprise software will need to have ties to social, cloud, mobility and analytics."

—Daniel-Zoe Jimenez, program manager at IDC Asia-Pacific

The first two platforms refer to when first, mainframe servers were accessed from terminals, and second when PCs accessed Unix, Windows and Linux-distributed servers on the backend. Today, the third platform is created with the proliferation of always-connected smart mobile devices linked up to a cloud-based server infrastructure to allow employees to access important new workloads such as big data analytics on the move, Jimenez explained.

Social networking is layered between the infrastructure and endpoints to offer a way for people to communicate and collaborate, he added.

"As we move toward the third platform, most enterprise software will need to have ties to social, cloud, mobility and analytics. Social and mobile functionalities are becoming de facto requirements and, increasingly, they will need to integrate with cloud environments as well," Jimenez stated.

"In addition, analytics capabilities are being increasingly bundled or embedded into enterprise applications, something which is increasing the pervasiveness of analytics."

Another industry watcher, Jillian Mirandi, chose instead to highlight the impact mobility has and will continue to play in shaping how enterprise software will evolve.

Mirandi, an analyst at TBRI, said of the four trends highlighted by Jimenez, mobility is the one that has "most significantly" shaped the enterprise market recently. As companies introduce mobile strategies to their workforces, this would subsequently lead to them wanting to explore cloud computing options, if they have not already, she said.

"Employees demand mobile access to data, which ultimately drives these businesses to look into adopting cloud-based or cloud-enabling tools. In short, I think mobility and mobile access is a driver of cloud adoption, and therefore mobility is the trend driving the most change," she stated.

Vendors having to adapt quickly

In order to address the upheavals among their customers, particularly in terms of how IT is deployed and consumed, enterprise software vendors are also having to move quickly to stay relevant and competitive.

IBM, for example, has positioned big data at the forefront of its strategy as it seeks to help companies — notably small and midsize businesses (SMBs) — make sense of the myriad data generated everywhere.

Elsie Tan, software leader at IBM Singapore, told ZDNet Asia that Big Blue is working with business partners to help SMBs analyze big data, identify patterns in customer preferences and employ real-time marketing strategies to grow their operations. Cloud-based delivery of such capabilities is then used to entice them to giving the offering a try.

Tan said: "IBM is offering [SMBs] one year of free access to cloud-based analytics solutions. This will enable them to assess their business needs, and identify the next-best actions to retain existing and attract new customers."

Splunk is another software vendor focusing on helping companies make sense of the huge amounts of data being generated — particularly machine data, which it defines as "data generated by web sites, applications, servers, networks, mobile devices and all sensors and RFID assets that produce data every second of every day".

In order to address the upheavals among their customers, particularly in terms of how IT is deployed and consumed, enterprise software vendors are having to move quickly to stay relevant and competitive.

Robert Lau, regional vice president and general manager of Asia-Pacific and Japan at Splunk, said the company offers an online, web-based management portal for companies to effectively manage the disparate sources of data and helping them "unlock the largely untapped value hidden within".

SAP is another software company that recognizes the importance of cloud computing and mobility in the changing business landscape.

Kurt Bilafer, regional vice president of analytics at SAP Asia-Pacific and Japan, told ZDNet Asia that for cloud computing, the software vendor knew its Business ByDesign suite was not really gaining traction as a cloud offering. This was why it bought cloud-based human resource management company SuccessFactors for US$3.4 billion back in 2011, he said.

Since then, the company has integrated many of the cloud functionalities into its existing portfolio, and has developed new ones with hybrid deployments in mind. Hybrid offerings are vital because not everyone in the company needs on-demand, online access to a human resource management portal, for example, and the on-premise deployment can help serve the 'passive' users who only access the software for limited purposes such as applying for leave, Bilafer explained.

As for mobility options, the executive said SAP is no longer just an on-premise enterprise resource planning (ERP) software provider, but a platform offering both cloud and mobility products.

This can be seen by its online store offering mobile software, which are both developed by the company and published by third-party business partners whose programs have been certified by SAP, said Bilafer. There were 222 mobile-based applications available for download when ZDNet Asia checked the site recently.

Bilafer also believes that mobile device management (MDM) tools such as Sybase's Afaria, integrated into its mobile analytics and business intelligence, shows that the company knows its way around the mobility arena. This is because not every software vendor in the market is concerned about securing access to sensitive corporate data when conducting workloads such as analytics on their mobile devices, he explained.

Full-blown implementations coming

Jimenez believes that with software vendors changing the way their products are developed and pitched at customers, organizations will move with greater urgency from testing and exploring cloud or mobility deployments, to full-blown implementations of a third-platform IT deployment.

In fact, IDC believes that by 2020, 40 percent of the US$5 trillion IT spending will be driven by third-platform technologies, he noted.  

As a result, software vendors need to find way to compete effectively on the third platform, even at the risk of cannibalizing their current second platform offerings. For instance, next-generation software must have embedded social capabilities as systems of relationship drive new ways for employees to collaborate and engage with customers, he suggested.

The same applies to analytics, which needs to exist in the context of business decision-making processes, Jimenez added.

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