by Nicholas D. Evans

Beyond SMAC: The new platform for digital business

Opinion
May 11, 20156 mins
Digital TransformationEmerging Technology

With the SMAC stack well established as the foundational set of technologies for next generation IT architectures, many are now asking what the next evolution of this platform will look like and how it will evolve to support and enable digital business in the years ahead.

As I discussed recently in “Preparing for the digital disruption that’s coming to your industry,” understanding the makeup of this new platform is vital for companies wishing to either create digital disruption in their industry or pro-actively respond to it.

When SMAC technologies first hit the scene several years back, they were broadly applicable and highly disruptive to enterprise IT. The next wave of disruptive technologies, some mature and some emerging, are now broadly applicable and highly disruptive to business models and processes.

So, from being a former “disruption” to enterprise IT, SMAC technologies are now becoming the essential building blocks of a new platform for digital business initiatives. This new platform for digital business is comprised of the familiar SMAC technologies, but adds in personas and context, intelligent automation, the Internet of Things and of course, cybersecurity. In addition, mobility is evolving and embracing wearable technologies, and the cloud is evolving and embracing broader concepts such as hybrid IT and software-defined data centers.

Collectively, these technologies can be utilized to assemble a platform ecosystem of on-demand services providing a palette of options for digital business outcomes. Based on your perspective, you’ll select powerful combinations of these technologies to achieve target business outcomes such as improving the digital customer experience, enhancing the digital workplace, transforming business processes, optimizing infrastructure, simplifying management, and implementing an adaptive cybersecurity defense posture.

Image courtesy of Nicholas D. Evans Image courtesy of Nicholas D. Evans

If you’re a CMO or business leader, you’ll likely focus on initiatives such as applying digital transformation to launch new business models, products and services; enhancing the digital customer experience to improve customer loyalty and revenues; transforming business processes to reduce costs, improve productivity and differentiate offerings; or obtaining insights from analytics to make better decisions, improve efficiencies and gain competitive advantage. In this case, you’ll select mostly from technologies to the left of the circle, but tap into those on the right as needed as well.

If you’re a CIO, you’ll likely focus on the aforementioned business initiatives in partnership with your business colleagues, plus core IT initiatives such as establishing a mission-critical infrastructure with increased agility, flexibility, manageability and security. In this latter case, you’ll select mostly from technologies to the right of the circle.

Overall, this new platform can be used as a frame of reference for digital business transformation in terms of the key IT capabilities – both technologies and approaches – needed to support your target business outcomes. Here are six key characteristics of the platform and how the model can help with your planning:

  • Ecosystem of Services – Rather than a monolithic platform that integrates everything, the future platform will consist of a highly virtualized, highly distributed, ecosystem of services from best-in-class providers – some of these capabilities you’ll build yourself, others you’ll outsource or subscribe to as-a-service, and others you may co-create with partners.
  • Foundational Building Blocks – Key disruptive technologies serve as foundational building blocks – some mature, some emerging. The SMAC stack will likely represent the core building blocks, but you’ll add other technologies based on your specific innovation needs and objectives. The IoT and intelligent automation (including both software and physical robots) will likely play a big role, but so will other enablers such as 3D printing and machine learning.
  • Digital Services LifecycleMastery of the digital services lifecycle is going to become a key competency for organizations to grow their business and build sustainable competitive advantage in the years ahead. It’s no longer sufficient to have an innovative set of products or services, you have to be a master of how you design, develop, deploy, manage and continually evolve your digital services as well. This is where capabilities such as agile and DevOps come into play so that you can quickly develop and deploy your new digital services.
  • Framework for Assessment – The platform provides a simple framework for assessing digital business proficiency and opportunity areas. For example, are you adequately leveraging each of these disruptive technology enablers in support of your business objectives? Perhaps you’re totally up to speed in leveraging the SMAC stack, but what about the IoT and areas such as wearables or robotic process automation?
  • The Agile Journey to the New Platform – Since IT will be a hybrid environment for quite some time, it will be important to interoperate across the two divides of the current state environment and this future vision. An agile, iterative journey to the future platform should be driven by specific business outcomes enabled by the appropriate sub-set of disruptive technologies. For example, an organization might undergo several tracks, or work streams, in parallel – with an iterative approach to reduce risk and deliver early benefits. One track might be around optimizing existing infrastructure and simplifying management and a parallel track might be around improving the digital customer experience and transforming business processes.
  • Common Groupings of Services – Common groupings of services such as those provided by software-defined data centers can address specific business objectives and accelerate time to market. Rather than build out every foundational element in support of a particular business objective, you may be able to find off the shelf capabilities where the various disruptive technologies have been pre-integrated and pre-packaged so you can put them to work immediately. For example, you may find a software-defined data center capability that has already pre-integrated the traditional SDDC components of “compute,” “network” and “storage” with additional elements such as software-defined security and software-defined management.

All in all, the new platform for digital business can be useful in thinking about the additional technology enablers, beyond the SMAC stack, that can add value and competitive advantage for digital business initiatives. In addition, one of the key points is that these technology enablers can be used in powerful combinations to support your target business objectives. For example, in digital workplace initiatives you may decide to “instrument the human” with wearables and sensors and also “socialize the machine” with natural language interfaces and the ability to collaboratively access and provision robotic functions via social networks. This will help optimize the blend of human-machine participation and interaction within your re-designed business processes for the digital workplace.

Finally, if we apply the model to some of today’s most interesting startups and next generation business models, you’ll find they apply many, if not all, of these technology enablers as part of their innovative approach. We’ll take a look at this in a future article…