What is the Third Platform?

image1There has been a lot of discussion of late regarding the rise of the Third Platform. Many corporations, most visibly IBM and Splunk, have been busy realigning their business strategies and readjusting the way they approach the market in order to ride the wave of the Third Platform.

So, What Is The Third Platform?

Gartner, the world’s leading information technology research and advisory firm, defined the Third Platform as the “convergence and mutual reinforcement of four interdependent trends: social interaction, mobility, cloud, and information.” Preceded by the First Platform, which relied on terminal/mainframe infrastructure, and the Second Platform, also known as the Lan/Internet, Client Server and PC era, the Third Platform can be seen as a natural progression that builds on the foundations set by the first two platforms.

To be successful, companies have to learn how to operate in the Third Platform and use it to their advantage. The consultant firm IDC predicted that, “By 2020, when the ICT [Information and Communications Technology] industry generates $5 trillion in spending, over $1.3 trillion more than it does today, 40% of the industry’s revenue and – incredibly – 98% of its growth will be driven by 3rd Platform technologies that today represent just 22% of ICT spending.”

How the Third Platform Works

image1A typical example of a Third Platform solution is a data gathering application operating through a social network that is accessible via a mobile device. An employee would then use a mobile device to instantly access the data on the company’s cloud-based network with great ease.

This would significantly increase the amount of data available to employees, as well as the speed of access, at a fraction of the cost. By implementing this system, for example, sales representatives in the field could access all of a company’s data through their tablets within a few seconds.

The major difference between the Third Platform and earlier IT solutions is location. Traditional IT solutions were designed to service an office or a facility from stationary entry points such as desktop computers. Third Platform solutions are designed to access systems through mobile devices.

The Four Pillars of the Third Platform

In order to grasp the concept of the Third Platform you will have to understand its four components: Big Data, Mobile Devices, Cloud Services and Social Technologies.

What is Big Data?

The most interesting and most misunderstood component of the Third Platform is Big Data. The concept behind Big Data is to maximise the utility of all data. An executive at a company that streamlines its business functions with the Third Platform would have easy access to all of the data, including sales figures, personnel information, accounting data, financials and so on. This data can then be used to inform virtually all areas of the business.

Big Data can be further differentiated once we analyse its three distinguishing features: Variety, Volume, and Velocity.

Variety simply means that many forms of data are collected, with formats ranging from audio and video, to client log files and Tweets. Volume represents the fact that Big Data must come in massive quantities, often over a Petabyte. Finally, Velocity signifies that Big Data must be constantly streaming in for maximum effectiveness; even data that is a few days old is not ideal.

In summary, Big Data utilises and collects all forms of data, gathered from both traditional and digital sources, in order to complement a company’s decision-making processes.

Where Do Mobile Devices Fit In?

The Third Platform is designed to give everybody access to Big Data via mobile devices; it is this mobility that really defines the Third Platform. A company representative on the road or working from home will have instant access to data through his or her mobile device with this Third Platform whenever and wherever they need it.

A perfect example of the use of mobile devices in the Third Platform would be a school that gives every student a tablet. The tablet would take the place of textbooks and paper used in assignments, but more importantly, the student will have access to a virtual classroom at all times.

With smart mobile device sales expected to grow by 20% by the end of 2013, it is of critical importance for businesses to invest in mobile technology as soon as possible.

How Cloud Services Form the Backbone of the Third Platform

Cloud services are at the heart of the Third Platform. Having Big Data and mobile devices is one thing, but without the cloud, there will be no way to access this data from outside of the office. In the near future, almost all access to networks and big data will be accessible through cloud-based applications.

This differs greatly from the First Platform, where computer networks consisted of large mainframes. All of a company’s employees had access to the data in the mainframe but they could only access it through their desktop computers. In the Second Platform, a company’s employees could access the data in the mainframe as well as outside data, via an Internet connection.

The Third Platform now allows all of a company’s IT solutions to be available through the Cloud, accessible via a variety of mobile devices. Data storage, servers and many IT solutions, which are onsite, can now be completely cloud-based.

What is Social Technology?

Gartner defined a social technology as, “Any technology that facilitates social interactions and is enabled by a communications capability, such as the Internet or a mobile device.” This extends not only to social media but also to all social technologies that make social interaction possible. A VoIP service, for example, would be considered a social technology.

In a trend that has been described as ‘social everything’, companies both big and small, will continue to inject a social element into every product and service. The cloud provides the infrastructure that makes the information accessible, the social technology helps to organise the data and facilitate access, and the mobile devices will provide the means by which most people receive the data.

The Third Platform is Already Here

The Third Platform is already here and it is radically altering the business world. Those who want to see how the Third Platform works need only look around any street in any major city. They will see large numbers of people using mobile devices to access information such as maps, games, television shows, music and news. Most of this data comes from cloud-based services, which the users access via social technologies.

The Third Platform is the future of information technology and business. In our next article, we will assess how the Third Platform will affect business communication.