SMAC: The Fifth Wave

Posted by Dave Kemp on March 17, 2014

In his recent blog, Nicholas Evans of Computerworld suggests we’re now in the 5th wave of innovation in IT service delivery – namely SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud).

He may well be right, suggesting that it’s being brought about by three key market forces:

  • A New Work Style Combining Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud
  • Digitization of business models and processes
  • The Information Inflection Point

He suggests that as a result, “IT departments will need to provide an information infrastructure layer capable of not only processing vast amounts of data streaming into the enterprise in real-time, but also capable of learning from this information and making intelligent decisions.”

He’s not the only one, by the way. Gartner are discussing the Nexus of Forces, Cognizant talk about SMACbeing the formula for the Future of Work, and describe SMAC as a sea change, and SAP JAM now provides one of the latest practical incarnations of solutions in this space. SMAC, in many ways, is already here.

But how big is it? Is it really the next big thing? Is it bigger than Big Data (or is Big Data just the Analytics inSMAC?). Will it help or hinder you? Is it going to hurt?

There’s no doubt that the confluence of market forces Evans describes is real. And there’s no doubt that, if all the forecasts come to pass, the world will look rather different, and we will have the 5th wave of IT services. And if we’re honest, it is already with us, brought about by digitisation, improved mobile devices and improved mobile access radically reshaping our use of networks, data, and processes, supported by ever more usable interfaces. Examples set by Facebook, Amazon, Wikipedia and others are already out there.

But I also think it’s one of those things where there is a direction, but no plan, where the big changes take longer than expected, whilst the little changes will take us further and faster than we might imagine.

Why? Because while there’s some strong and compelling visions of what SMAC means, there’s also a sense of it’s being disruptive – which in turn means we won’t know all the details and impacts until it’s in the rear view mirror, where there’s already the wreckage of firms like Nokia and Borders. It’s also going to be dependent upon adoption (change management issues apply), maturity into the digital generation (ways of thinking apply), infrastructure (networks and devices that are good enough, and applications that are useful and serve real purpose), and, above all, integration. But we’re human, and we can’t wait to dive in to all that is out there.

As an individual, it’s easy to buy into this – streaming music and video, getting recommendations via tweets, crowdsourcing knowledge about how to fix your mother’s PC. And you can do this, without really thinking about the magic that takes place behind the scenes – the networks, the app stores, the managed forums, the processes companies put in to serve useful and relevant services (and advertisements), together with the haggling between firms, governments and standards bodies that are needed to make it all work.

But as a business, it remains important to understand what we might want to achieve from a SMAC project, what we might need to do to get there, and what benefits, as a business, we might expect to achieve. Here, we may well see advantage in mobile knowledge sharing, but it’s no use if the rural network’s only 2G. We may well see huge benefit in analytics, but it doesn’t help if a data breach or a stolen device puts your company on the front page for the wrong reasons. We might want benefits for us, or we might want them for our customers. We might need to offer them just to stay on the pitch. But doing nothing is probably not an option.

So, yes, let’s get excited about SMAC. In many ways, it’s not just the fifth wave of IT services. It’s a revolution akin to the industrial revolution, or to printing. The first four waves were just working out some of the basics. But just like past revolutions, there’ll be good ideas and bad, good investments and bad. The possibilities may be significantly greater with SMAC, but it’s still good practice to keep your practical objectives close to the horizon, and clearly defined. Just make sure you have them written down on your new mobile device, and shared with the team. And then peer review them with the latest shared whiteboard app.

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Dave Kemp

Dave’s workforce management expertise is rivalled only by the variety of organisations that he has supported through business transformation initiatives, including many in public services. Since joining Leadent, he has worked with the Environment Agency, University College London and Transport for London, as well as many utilities to help them transform their ways of working.