ICT (information, communications and technology) is complicated, much like rush hour on a busy highway that has many lanes, frequent on/off-ramps, roundabouts and random stop lights. Making sense of ICT can be just as frustrating as driving, and there is much that can be disruptive (as any corporate security officer knows well!).

Legacy ICT is being challenged from every direction – from the physical data centre to business software development to the automation of ICT solutions. Modern ICT ecosystems (the so-called SMAC+I+B suite) don’t always seem to fit together, however, so having the big picture vision is becoming more critical to success for both suppliers and buyers.

There is also one important question: who is leading the charge to the next generation of ICT? Is the enterprise CIO leading the industry by defining requirements or is it their business clients or even their vendors that are the visionaries?

To see if there’s an answer to these questions, let’s take a brief look at three parts of the puzzle: resources, platforms and ecosystems.

Digital infrastructure resources

Being digital means depending on ICT infrastructures for collecting, moving, storing, transforming, interpreting and presenting data.

A wide range of components are involved: data centres, networks, endpoints (things/devices/people) and embedded software. Digital resources can be physical or virtual and shared or dedicated.

Looking only at the data centre, there are many recent developments and equally many design questions:

  • Will on-premises, co-located, hosted and public cloud data centres co-exist? What role should each of these play in the overall digital infrastructure?
  • Will enterprises continue to own data centres or will they primarily subscribe to resources “as a service”?
  • How quickly will legacy systems transform into cloud systems?

Similar transformations are occurring throughout the digital infrastructure.  For example:

  • There is a move to software-defined ICT, especially networks, data centres and service automation;
  • The transition to wireless access with mobile endpoints is occurring rapidly;
  • Consumerization is occurring with social networks, public cloud computing and Internet-based services; and
  • Increased emphasis is being placed on security, quality, privacy and preservation of the digital assets.

The goal for any digital infrastructure level is to make it essentially ubiquitous and invisible.  It’s sort of like toilets – they are everywhere, they are connected to the water and sewer systems, they almost always work, they normally fulfill their mission, and they are basically automatic. Most, if not all, of the complexities are hidden from the user.

Digital operating platforms

Digital platforms automate the intermediary, broker or marketplace functions that are found in many industries. Examples include Facebook for social interaction, Uber for rides, Airbnb for rooms and PayPal for payments.  Essentially, the goal of a digital platform is to automate matching providers to consumers, preferably in ways that can be monetarized (such as by charging a fee or facilitating advertising).

Digital platforms try to exploit Metcalf’s Law, which says that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users.  Most digital disruptions are based on creating some form of self-serve digital platform, and success comes from finding ways to charge for it that don’t alienate its users.

Digital platforms require many of the benefits inherent in cloud-based systems: scalability, pay-as-you-go, broad accessibility and multi-tenancy.

Digital ecosystems

Gartner defines a digital ecosystem as “an interdependent group of enterprises, people and/or things that share standardized digital platforms for a mutually beneficial purpose (such as commercial gain, innovation or common interest). Digital ecosystems enable you to interact with customers, partners, adjacent industries — even your competition.”

Digital ecosystems can also be thought of as the sum of people, processes and technologies needed to implement an ICT “line of business.” For example, a smartphone manufacturer may rely on other companies to provide and support the hardware components, the operating system and the user applications. Hardware troubleshooting may require one link, software patches another link, and application updates yet another.  Digital ecosystems can become quite complex and inter-related.

Major ecosystems have developed around Social networking, Mobility, Analytics/big data, Cloud computing, Internet of things and Blockchain (SMAC+I+B). As can be expected, there are a wide range of manufacturers, vendors and consortia involved in the formalization and evolution of these ecosystems. There are also a wide range of standardization initiatives in these areas.

Conclusion

To answer the initial question, in my opinion there is neither a single ICT industry leader nor a universally accepted vision for the next generation of ICT. Although each ecosystem is developing according to its own roadmap, they are all software-driven and can be combined and connected in different and potentially innovative ways.

Patterns of use are likely to emerge over time but ICT is changing so quickly that it will become more difficult to determine what is legacy, what is current best practice and what is still at the early adopter stage.

The CIO is now a source of competitive edge for those enterprises that invest in understanding and adopting modern ICT ecosystems in new and novel solutions.

This is what I think.  Do you have any alternative facts?



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