The next information revolution will happen in 2016 – are you ready?

Introduction and the effects on businesses

We need to embrace the Nexus of Forces. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, and yet analyst firm Gartner’s concept from last year is still highly relevant – and being ignored or badly handled by many businesses.

Many are getting a SMAC. Social, mobile, analytics and cloud – the four most important technologies – are disrupting traditional business practices, and driving innovation. This is the technology platform, the so-called Third Platform, of the future, and the consequences of it are only just being understood.

“In the Nexus of Forces, information is the context for delivering enhanced social and mobile experiences,” says Chris Howard, managing vice president at Gartner. “Mobile devices are a platform for effective social networking and new ways of work. Social links people to their work and each other in new and unexpected ways. Cloud enables delivery of information and functionality to users and systems. These forces of the Nexus are intertwined to create a user-driven ecosystem of modern computing.”

Autonomous factories and warehouses are next

What is the Nexus of Forces?

“The Nexus of Forces is the concept of social media engagement, mobile platforms and analytics derived from the explosion of data, underpinned by cloud to enable rapid, flexible delivery,” says Cliff Evans, Chief Digital Officer at Capgemini, who helps companies transform their business processes.

Anyone doubting that there’s been a change should just look at the tech they carry around. A few years ago, we had laptops, projectors and other cool new tech at work. Sometimes we brought them home.

Now the opposite is true; we’ve all got far more advanced computers in our pockets than on our office desktops, each of them using the public cloud – unlike at work – and each packed with myriad apps and sensors. Not only has IT become consumerised, but we’ve also become more tech-savvy.

The Nexus of Forces embraces emerging new tech on the 'hype cycle'

How does the Nexus of Forces affect business?

It’s largely about more sophisticated ways of reaching customers via digital marketing, with Gartner recently highlighting the must-have tech that will join the trends of social, mobile, analytics and cloud in an ever-expanding Nexus of Forces. “As enterprises continue the journey to becoming digital businesses, identifying and employing the right technologies at the right time will be critical,” says Betsy Burton, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.

Gesture control, hybrid cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, people-literate technology, and speech-to-speech translation are all identified as technologies in the ‘hype cycle’ that will play a big role.

“We are seeing new forces – IoT, AI, and cryptography such as Bitcoin and Blockchain – creating new imperatives for change, further breaking down the barriers of the organisations,” says Evans, though he points out that some of the most radical changes are happening in less well developed countries. With no legacy equipment, systems and mind-sets to contend with, a business can go straight to new models of delivery and become an instant digital business.

Cryptography such as Bitcoin challenges business to adapt

How are businesses adapting?

While citizens have lapped up the Nexus of Forces, business hasn’t been so adaptable – and it’s mainly down to people’s old fashioned mind-sets. Evans is not convinced that any business has yet been able to truly integrate the tech trends of social, mobile, analytics and cloud to create anything really compelling for customers.

“Most often we see organisations with one part of the business doing social media engagement, another building mobile platforms, and a separate insights and data team, with the IT function worrying about where to use cloud to save costs,” he says.

A cultural shift is needed to herald any kind of meaningful, long-term changes to how business is done. “This cultural change would require a change in the way technology is used, and the most frequent manifestation of the change is the business starting to buy technology directly from service providers to gain rapid access and speedy delivery.” This is the move to SaaS (Software as a Service).

B2i and the third platform

From B2C and B2B… to B2i?

The landscape of IT purchasing has changed massively since the cloud appeared. “The rise of the cloud, the proliferation of mobile and improved access to information empowered business buyers in new ways,” says Ed Chuang, VP of Marketing for Avangate. “These shifts go beyond consumerisation of IT and into what we call B2i – business to individual – where the traditional distinction between B2C and B2B is now blurred.”

This is the world not only of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), but of SaaS and PaaS (Platform as a Service), where companies pay as they go for bandwidth, buy software subscriptions, get freemium trials, and pay via credit cards.

“The IT budget is not solely in the hands of the IT team anymore, and individual employees are now empowered to purchase applications with a few clicks of a mouse,” says Chuang.

However, it’s not necessarily about this new consumerisation of IT per se. “It’s more about IT in the digital age being bought as part of a business service, rather than as an end in itself,” says Evans.

Ed Chuang, VP of Marketing for Avangate

What is the Third Platform?

The Third Platform is largely more terminology for the same thing as the Nexus of Forces, this time from analysts at IDC. Chuang thinks it’s all heading for one place; commerce automation. “With millions of apps, billions of users and trillions of things and continuous industry transformation, digital commerce and, together with it, commerce automation technology will emerge as the fundamental enabler of omni-channel sales within the Third Platform,” he says.

Almost all commerce is e-commerce now, but while life gets easier for retailers, it’s gotten a lot trickier for distribution and warehouse companies. Cue the automated warehouse, which helps businesses pick orders for individual items without employing hundreds of staff. It’s a trend that’s soon to go one step further and embrace both personalisation and even faster fulfilment, too.

“The future of the buying experience will be provided through various consumption models – one-time, subscriptions or usage, with 24-hour order processing, instant gratification and personalisation becoming more prevalent,” says Chuang.

The fact that Amazon is thinking of using drones to make deliveries is the proof of exactly where it thinks e-commerce is headed, thanks to the Third Platform – and Amazon Prime is but the tip of the iceberg.

Quantum computing will also join the Nexus of Forces

What comes after the Nexus of Forces?

Properly digital business – this is about the convergence of people, business and things. The IoT and the concept of blurring the physical and virtual worlds then come into play, according to Gartner, with physical assets becoming digitalised.

It’s also when next-gen technologies that are just now being discussed will begin to play a role in business, from augmented reality, brain-computer interfaces, and volumetric and holographic displays, to smart robots, 3D bio-printing and quantum computing. The end result? Autonomous business, where tech replaces humans.

Today, digital business is about mobile apps. Tomorrow there’ll be autonomous vehicles shuffling goods and people to and fro, and all kinds of autonomous cognitive software communicating with customers. One thing is for sure; the Nexus of Forces is growing.

“The response needs to be one of cultural shift to embrace the new fast dynamic of the business/technology model, where technology has now become a driver for change, rather than just an enabler,” says Evans. “Those companies that recognise and embrace this cultural change will be the ones that succeed in this new environment.”

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