Some time in the mid 1980’s when we both worked in the express delivery industry, a colleague and I ran a set of customer, product and route profitability reports. Configuring the parameters took a few days and then it was down to some IT boffin to load all the transactional data and run the reports for us. About a week later we came in to find a Post-It note stuck on our desktops to say the reports were ready for us. We struggled back to our floor with our trolley laden with four waist-high piles of sprocket-driven printouts ready to manually separate the customer reports for each sales rep and highlight those accounts that fell below the bar with a day glow marker – a task that took another week or so. During this period we had an unwelcome visitation from an over-zealous health and safety representative who maintained having such a large amount of paper in one place constituted a fire hazard. Oh the joys of doing performance management when analysts needed muscle to be able to handball heavy reports.
At the end of 2011 analyst IDC labelled the conjunction of mobile, in-memory and cloud based solutions the ‘3rd Platform’. Its ancestors being mainframes and then the PC and I guess the incident described above was at the transition between the 1st and 2nd Platforms. Today, there would still be some data integration needed behind the scenes, but using the in-memory capabilities of SAP HANA, the reports would run in seconds and field based account managers can analyze the output themselves on a mobile device – and it wouldn’t require a couple of analysts like us supported by a small army of IT folk without whom, we’d have been completely useless.
With the benefit of hindsight, it looks as though both of what IDC call the 1st and 2nd Platforms lasted about a generation – 25-30 years – before newly emerging technologies brought about their demise. So as we start a new year with an increasing number of companies embracing the 3rd Platform, I’m sure we will be hearing some amazing stories of both financial and business transformation. What I can’t get my head around is what the 4th Platform might look like in 25 years time. Anyone willing to share their vision or point us to where the technologies that will underpin it are being incubated today?