Here Comes the 4th Platform
The title of this piece is not a typo. I’ll explain…
EMC’s 2014 strategy is built on the premise that IT as we know it is being redefined by the 3rd platform. It’s almost impossible to attend any presentation on company strategy without seeing this slide:
In case you haven’t been having any 3rd platform conversations around the water cooler, it is another way of describing the proliferation of mobile devices. However, it also represents the shift we’re experiencing to an era dominated by mobile, cloud, big data, and social. I think a great example of a business model that seems purpose-built for the 3rd platform is the music service Spotify:
- Mobile—intuitive mobile app that’s easy to use
- Cloud—content is effortlessly synchronized across devices
- Big Data—targeted recommendations based on preferences and behavior
- Social—follow other users, share music, and collaborate on playlists
IDC is largely credited with building and socializing the 3rd platform concept, so last month I attended the IDC Directions conference to hear all about it, straight from the horse’s mouth. The first general session, Key Battles – and Strategies – for Dominance on the 3rd Platform, was delivered by Frank Gens. My interest was quickly piqued when Frank started discussing… the 4th platform.
There’s a 4th platform? Apparently so, and IDC is referring to it as Innovative Industry Solutions. We’ve been in a “digitize” stage during the shift to the 3rd platform. We digitize our media, processes, intelligence, and so on. We’re also building clouds to easily access that digitized data and make it available through multiple devices.
According to IDC, the next step is to “materialize”. We’re seeing glimpses of this with intelligent home appliances, self-driving cars, and wearables. These things typically aren’t part of our day-to-day lives. They just sound and look cool. Apparently the 4th platform is our opportunity to truly innovate in the material world once we’ve built out all of these well-run clouds and fine-tuned our Big Data analytics capabilities. Here’s a slide from the presentation explaining the shift:
While this is interesting, I don’t think the 4th platform concept is groundbreaking or even new at this point. We’ve already spent years talking about the Internet of Things (IoT)—a similar concept that essentially refers to internet connectivity across the worlds’ objects. For example, take a look at this 2010 McKinsey IoT article. According to Wikipedia, the concept of IoT has been discussed as far back as 1991. Forrester Research also released a report in 2001 entitled The X Internet that explained the differences between “the PC-based Net” of 2001 and “Internet devices and applications that sense, analyze, and control the real world”.
One could also argue that the concept was first introduced in 1982 with the Knight Rider television series. The character KITT was clearly purpose-built for the 4th platform. Here are just a handful of KITT’s features:
- Microwave Jammer—to take control of other electronics such as ATMs or slot machines
- Surveillance Mode—to tap into computer systems to monitor, upload, or download information
- Infrared Tracking Scope— to track the position of specific vehicles
All joking aside, while it’s debatable who should receive credit for building this concept, there is overwhelming agreement that we are headed for a significant shift where the Internet is going to be embedded in all of our stuff. It’s also interesting to observe that this collective 4th platform / IoT / X Internet innovation seems to serve a common purpose across countless industries—customer experience. I have no idea what the future will hold, but if every product we purchase comes pre-packaged with the customer experience embedded inside, it’s safe to assume that we’re about to embark on a wild ride where artificial intelligence, proactive self-healing, empowered self-help, and who knows what else will become our new normal. Turbo boost, KITT!