by Nicholas D. Evans

SMAC and the evolution of IT

Dec 09, 20137 mins
Digital TransformationEnterprise ArchitectureIT Leadership

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Every fifteen years or so, the IT industry has witnessed new innovations in computing which have changed the way IT services are delivered to the business and end users. After the mainframe era, mini-computing era, personal computer and client-server era, and the Internet era (or more correctly, the “Web” era), we’re now in what many call the fifth wave of corporate IT. This fifth wave is characterized by a new master IT architecture comprised of social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies collectively known as SMAC.

In this article, I thought it might be interesting to look at the trajectory of these evolutions in IT to see what SMAC may bring over the next several years. One of the key changes over time, throughout all these evolutions, has been the exponentially increasing processing power of computers, and the steady growth in the number of computing devices, applications and users. The table below shows the rough magnitude of these changes across the various computing eras – dates and numbers are approximate just to give a sense of the order of magnitude.

IT Era








Mainframe 1950-1965 ~100,000 Thousands Millions
Mini-Computing 1965-1980 ~10M Thousands Tens of millions
PC & Client/Server 1980-1995 ~100M Tens of thousands Hundreds of millions
Internet (Web) 1995-2010 ~1B Hundreds of thousands Billions
SMAC 2010-2025? Tens of billions Millions Billions

Source: Various sources including Cognizant, IDC, Unisys

The real promise of SMAC technologies is not necessarily their individual contributions or their cost savings and process efficiencies for IT, but their potential to support the continued digitization and automation of business models and processes. According to many, we’re moving into a new “digital industrial revolution”.

Three Emerging Market Forces

Over the next several years, I see three emerging market forces, whose effects are already being felt across all industries and geographies, impacting not only the nature of IT, but also the nature of how we conduct business itself. The IT department of the future will need to address these market forces by leveraging an array of emerging and disruptive technologies, including SMAC architectures, to support their business opportunities in the most efficient manner.

A New Work Style Combining Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud – Today’s customers and employees, particularly digital natives, are expecting a new style of commerce, content and collaboration that’s social-, mobile-, analytics-, and cloud-enabled. They’re looking for the same anytime, anywhere, and any-device convenience that they’re familiar with in their personal lives through applications from companies such as Amazon and Facebook. In terms of device usage, the “mobile elite” in the workforce currently utilize three or more personal devices for work and this number will only increase as wearable devices such glasses and watches add to end user options.

In the SMAC era, the next generation of business applications needs to embrace this same approach to enhance the end user experience, and maximize convenience and productivity, as SMAC-enabled architectures become the preferred application paradigm and means of interaction.

As part of this new architecture, IT departments will need a capability equivalent to a “user experience engine” to provide the SMAC technology integration, management and personalization layer providing a contextually-relevant experience to end users and supporting their new work style. It’s not just about mobile device management, mobile application management, and social platforms all in silos, but about integrating these capabilities into a seamless user experience.

Digitization of business models and processes – As society and national GDPs continue to migrate to the Internet economy, traditional business processes, business models and even entire industries are being disrupted as products and services become ever-more digitized. While many industries have already experienced this disruption, such as those in media and entertainment whose primary product or service has become completely digitized (e.g. books, music, movies, maps), the next wave is now being felt as other industries see aspects of their physical value chain become ever-more technology-enabled and optimized.

Correspondingly, in the SMAC era, the role of the CIO within many organizations is now changing. It’s moving from that of an “engineer”, operating IT as the engine room, to that of a “pioneer” helping the C-Suite make IT an actual part of the business. In many cases, industrial-age business models and processes are being torn-down into their component activities, or “units of work”, and completely re-designed from the ground up in the new digital context.

In light of this, a key IT skill for the future may be that of business process analysts, or perhaps “business process scientists” along the same lines as the current need for “data scientists”. Much like entrepreneurs, these business process scientists will combine deep skills in business process analysis and design with a unique understanding of how to leverage emerging technologies.

In addition, in terms of IT infrastructure, a capability equivalent to a “digital assembly line” will be required by IT departments to provide agile assembly and dynamic execution of digital services supported by a hybrid cloud infrastructure leveraging software-defined principles. According to Gartner, in terms of assembling services, hybrid cloud environments will be increasingly required to support static, deployment, event, and dynamic service composition. You can think of this as the continued evolution of as-a-service platforms, and capabilities such as cloud service brokers, towards a highly dynamic and flexible model for assembling and providing digital services.

The Information Inflection Point – The exponential growth in computing devices and data brought about by the Internet economy, the consumerization of IT, and the emerging “Internet of Things” is placing new requirements and burdens on the data center in terms of being able to collect, manage and interpret this information to support effective business decision-making. Existing information infrastructures are not equipped for the volume, velocity or variety of this information. According to Cisco, the number of devices connected to IP networks will be nearly three times as high as the global population in 2017

In the SMAC era, IT departments will need to provide an information infrastructure layer capable of not only processing vast amounts of data streaming into the enterprise in real-time, but also capable of learning from this information and making intelligent decisions. You can think of this as an “intelligent management and operations” capability within their enterprise architecture. To give a sense of the growing importance of this trend, by 2017, 10% of computers will be learning rather than processing.


In summary, these three market forces are all macro-level changes that will impact how IT supports, enables, and transforms the business in the years ahead as part of this fifth wave of corporate IT. There will be digital services that are purchased within line-of-business areas and digital services that IT will continue to provide to the entire organization.

IT departments will need to master the development and deployment of SMAC-enabled applications and infrastructures with attention to three key areas: developing core skills around supporting the new work style of their customers and employees, understanding how to assess business processes for transformation via SMAC technologies, and, finally, addressing the upcoming information inflection point. They will accomplish this last objective not only by dealing with the sheer scale and velocity of their data streams, but by focusing on machine-learning capabilities and intelligent analytics to make smart decisions related to this information in addition to routine processing.

A key element that must not be forgotten in the SMAC discussion is that cybersecurity needs to be embedded and pervasive. As part of their new SMAC architecture, addressing the major disruptive trends, organizations will need a new cybersecurity framework and architecture as the traditional security perimeter dissolves into a virtualized environment.

Of course, as is always the case, just as IT departments support a highly heterogeneous mix of applications and infrastructure in today’s environment, this will certainly continue in the years ahead. Success will most likely be realized by those organizations that not only migrate quickly to the new SMAC paradigm, but who figure out how to deal with hybrid environments as they effect the transition from one evolution of IT to the next.