How IT will be blown to bits

As spending for tech gradually slips from IT hands, expect an explosion of industry-specific cloud platforms, says new IDC report

The season of predictions is upon us, with market intelligence firm IDC last week releasing its report "IDC Predictions 2013: Competing on the 3rd Platform." What exactly is the "3rd platform"? It's an IDC amalgam of mobile computing, cloud services, social networking, and big data analytics technologies -- which tend to be procured outside the usual enterprise IT channels. According to the report, these technologies will together drive approximately 90 percent of the growth in IT spending from 2013 through 2020.

A fascinating aspect of this prediction crystalized for me during a conversation with IDC Senior Vice President Frank Gens, who described how cloud services are starting to dig deep into vertical industry areas -- an accelerating trend that portends dramatic fragmentation of IT.

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"We're going to see an explosion in the growth of PaaS [platform as a service]," Gens told me. "Not Azure or Force.com or other horizontal ones, but the creation of industry-specific application platforms run by people in those industries."

Immediately I thought about the open source boomlet in vertical applications I saw a couple of years ago, where enterprise developers were collaborating across company boundaries to share code under open source licenses. A PaaS variation on that general idea seems like a natural extension.

But who is actually doing what Gens calls "industry PaaS" now? He offered several examples: "Last year, the New York Stock Exchange announced what it called a trading Community Platform ... basically a space where companies can build SaaS apps for the financial trading community."

He also cited Johnson Controls, which has a business called Panoptix that has created a platform for developing energy management applications for smart buildings -- and recently announced an app store.

Finally, Gens noted a hot genetic sequencing company named Illumina that hosts BaseSpace, a collaborative PaaS environment for biologists that provides easy-to-use analysis tools and, in the near future, an app store.

"With 'industry PaaS,' it's not just about IT guys," said Gens. "It's every industry you can imagine ... creating third-platform enterprises." The result, he said, will be a long tail of cloud-based solutions that were previously too expensive to develop commercially for niche applications.

IDC sees a $65 billion market in these industry solutions for 2013, rising to $100 billion in 2016. "At the end of the day," Gens said, "it's going to be businesspeople using these platforms to create new innovation and new value in new markets."

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