IDC’s Directions 14: Some Interesting Observations on Mobility – and Beyond

IDC’s annual Directions conference focused this year on the “Third Platform”, which has mobility at its core. But there’s a lot more to this concept, with huge implications for the future of IT overall.

I recently attended IDC's annual Directions conference in Boston, and this information-packed event is always worth a visit. IDC is, of course, the original analyst firm, today with over 1,000 analysts and always a fairly quantitative approach to the IT industry. I don't think it's possible to agree with every pronouncement that any analyst firm makes (including my own, by the way), but the reasoning behind and the discussion and debate surrounding these create an interesting educational opportunity at the very least.

IDC's current Big Theme is the "Third Platform" of social, mobile, cloud, and Big Data/analytics. The First Platform, in case you were wondering, was mainframe/terminal, and the Second, LAN/Internet and Client/Server. The Third, then, looks like a bit of a non-sequitur or mashup, but the sentiment and intent are understandable. The importance of SoMoClo has been noted by others, and Big Data and analytics are growing in value everywhere today, complementary and perhaps now even essential to, at least of the other three, Social. For me, the bottom line here is that access to everything everywhere remains a core driver of IT spending and innovation, and the overall emphasis is on applications, fitting nicely with my own earlier analysis of the impact of sufficiency. So I guess IDC and I are kind of on the same page here, although our terminology and presentation are very different. I don't, for example, see mobility or Big Data as platforms, but rather the former as a workstyle based on wireless networking and the latter as an intrinsic or toolset. No matter; we're debating definition, and all four of IDC's elements in the Third Platform are clearly important regardless.

Directions 2014 covered a huge range of topics and was divided into tracks with multiple simultaneous sessions. I spent, as you might assume, most of my time in the sessions oriented towards mobility, and here are few key points from those in no particular order:

  • IT investment overall is still being driven by a desire for improvements in productivity, the need to address security challenges, and cost reduction. No surprises here, and I don't expect these priorities to change going forward, even though this sounds pretty boring. Based on this, one would assume that IT isn't driving or even can't drive innovation in business units or the larger organization. We're still recovering from the recession, I guess. Still, one presentation noted that "Silos are the enemy" and "Technology isn't enough - culture and process", so perhaps the influence of IT, properly managed, anyway, will indeed grow.
  • PC sales remain in continuing decline, and it is indeed fair to think of them as being replaced by smartphones and tablets. The importance of the cloud really should be the same for all types of subscriber devices, but this is clearly accelerating for the more contemporary alternatives. Yes, we hit worldwide sales of 1B smartphones in 2013, accounting for 2/3 of all subscriber devices shipped. There was also a session on Phablets, but with little actual discussion of that class of device. I'm still nowhere near bullish on these myself.
  • IDC sees the 2013 worldwide Big Data market at US$12.6B, with a current CAGR of 27%, and the 2013 worldwide Business Analytics market at US$104.1B, with a CAGR of 10.8%. These numbers includes hardware, software, and services in each case. The analytics number seems very high to me, but IDC is likely including capabilities unrelated to Big Data in this case. The top drivers of Big Data and analytics in organizations were listed as "Product or Service Improvement and Innovation" and "Customer Service and Support", but "Pricing Strategies and Programs" and "Market and Competitive Intelligence", which I would have assumed would be at the top, were numbers 3 and 4, respectively. Interesting...
  • Internet of Things (IoT), which I've started to think of as the relatively ancient field of sensor-based computing with a shiny new IP address, is going to consume a huge amount of wireless capacity going forward. IDC sees the current IoT market at $4.8T (yes, trillion), with a CAGR of only 6% through 2020 - but, given that, the market is $8.9T then. Security remains the number one concern here - no surprise, but good solutions do exist. And, by the way, IoT is going to generate vast amounts of Big Data just begging to be analyzed.
  • IDC is really bullish on the wearables space, citing a 78.4% CAGR in units and an 82.2% CAGR in revenues from 2013 to 2018. This remains a tiny piece of the overall device market, though, and I think it's clear that, as IDC put it, "Wearable computing is at the Launchpad" and that market research at this point in what may be a paradigm shift (I still have my doubts) is unreliable.

I've noted this before, but I think that mobile-centric, cloud-based, closed-user-group, internal social networks are the future of personal and group productivity in organizations everywhere. So, while we might debate exactly what a platform is today, IDC is, I think, overall on the right track with the theme of this event.

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