The Convergence of Cloud, Mobile, Social and Big Data

[In July, I was invited by Salesforce to be the speaker at the launch of their new CIO Thought Leadership series of meetings.  The suggested topic was, “The future of IT and cloud computing in a social, mobile, digital world.  Here is what I said.]

Every day IT is bombarded with statistics that talk about a future that WILL happen – and the question is posed, is our ship ready to get us to that distant shore?  Just yesterday, I saw statistics from Intel, saying that by 2015 the number of connected users will grow by 55% that connected devices will triple in number, that storage needs will quadruple over today, and that global cloud IP traffic will grow almost 5-fold!  For vendors like Intel, there is a relatively clear response with products.  For IT, the answers are less clear and with many choices – but the convergence of four major areas is very obvious.

There is the cloud, there is mobility, there is social, and there is big data – and we, in IT, are to fashion the future from them.  Let me talk briefly of each – but let me be up front about saying – what has really changed is how we engage with the user, and what we are expected to provide to that user in terms of both simplicity and power.

The cloud is very much there – a natural resting place, or should I say growing place, for virtualization.  Deployment speed, low cost, ubiquitous availability, elasticity – all very appealing.  But while IT has been a consumer of SaaS, and Salesforce is a great example of this, it is important not to view the cloud in isolation – the real advantage comes from adding PaaS to the equation, and integrating the cloud with other applications, like ERP and eCommerce, that may be on premise or on other clouds.

Then there is mobility — a true revolution in making the world an immersive, yet unbounded experience.  It is cloud-reliant for its effectiveness, and it is yet new.  But it changes the IT world – from requiring us to be location aware, to providing context-specific information, to enabling continuity of experience over multiple platforms.  For IT there are as yet unresolved questions – will enhance HTML5 replace native applications or just supplement them?  Will there be any local storage in the future and will form factors become irrelevant as application intelligence increases?  What should one plan and build for?  What should we build and what should we broker?

Social becomes possible because of mobility and the cloud.  Communications is now unchained – and it may take the form of shared experience (perhaps as cat videos!) or as ‘likes’ and recommendations.  Both are important to businesses.  Analysis is needed to get to value – and for the consumer space, large companies in particular have made great progress in analyzing Big Data.  But all need to become good at it.  New promotional avenues have to be realized, not just hinted at.

With Big Data, what we have is the replacement of the small, statistically significant sample set, to saying that the sample size is “All”!  This does away with needing to control variables, and we largely stop looking at the why of what is happening, to what is happening – the focus shifts from causality to correlation.  The easier part of Big Data, however formidable because of the size, or real-time element, is still the numbers – it is parsing text to where it can be relevantly thrown into the right combinations with numbers to make data-driven business decisions that is the tough part.

Finally, we return to the user, the customer, who is the focal point where cloud, mobility, social and Big Data converge.  The expectation is of outcomes relevant to the individual, delivered anywhere, with speed and relevance.  The challenge for IT is to make this happen in a tomorrow that is very near to today.