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Future Perfect Platform

How Creative Evolution Will Force a "Post-Platform" World

(or how I came to understand, “it’s about the data and information architecture “dummy” and that there really is no such thing as a platform”)

The Current State of Platforms Today

Today’s platforms for Smart Systems and the IoT should be taking on the toughest challenges of interoperability, information architecture and user complexity.  But they’re not.

We need to creatively evolve to an entirely new approach that avoids the confinements and limitations of today’s differing platforms.  We need to quickly move to a “post platform” world where there is a truly open data and information architecture that can easily integrate diverse machines, data, information systems and people – a world where smarter systems will smoothly interact to create systemic intelligence – a world where there are no artificial barriers between different types of information.

Download A Summary of Harbor’s Latest Platform Report

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In our years of experience, we have all too often seen the unfortunate scenarios that managers create when uncertainty and complexity force them to rely on selective attention.  Unfortunately, when this happens, selective attention naturally gravitates toward what’s readily available: past experience, existing tools and uncertain assumptions.  Today’s IT and telco infrastructure players are doing just this.  By ignoring important trends simply because it’s difficult to perceive an alternative future, these managers are certainly leaving the door open for competition that will lead to their eventual obsolescence…which will make for a very interesting world to live in…

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Why We Need to Move Beyond the Traditional IT Culture That’s Holding Us All Hostage and Get Back to the Future

The term “convergence” implies unification, but you wouldn’t know it from today’s rapidly evolving “Internet of Things” market—a fragmented landscape full of incomplete platforms, narrow point-solutions, and software incompatibility seemingly all based on the premise of some outsized dependency on big data and the cloud.

The next cycle of IoT systems development is supposed to set the stage for a multi-year wave of growth based on the convergence of innovations in software architectures; back-room data center operations; wireless and broadband communications; and smaller, more powerful client devices connected to personal, local and wide-area networks. But is it?

Current computer science still operates with models of information, networking, and databases that were conceived in the mainframe and client server eras and cannot serve the needs of a truly connected world. Data today is locked in silos, on both a system-by-system basis and by vertical use. Software development is duplicated and applications remain unable to share data or functionality. We are using the last generation of tools for the next generation of computing and information interactions.

Today’s so-called IoT and digital platforms, tools and solutions have several challenges:

  • Challenge 1: Platforms are, for the most part, limited to connectivity, “canned” device and data management functionality and programmer-centric APIs when what we need to do is remove app development limitations through more powerful data structures and more intuitive tools, making smart systems and IoT app development accessible to non-coders.
  • Challenge 2: Custom solutions are stunted by expense, time and lack of flexibility when what we really need is a catalog of reusable, modifiable parts to speed prototyping, development and implementation.
  • Challenge 3:  One-off apps isolate data and do not enable fluid data interactions when what we really need is a truly interoperable data and information architecture that enables open adaptable data relationships, non-destructive data manipulation, and unique data identifiers that allow data to flow across apps, domains and widely varying usage.

Demand for interoperability is growing, and as designers of new digital technologies work to provide it, they will be laying the foundation for an information system far vaster than the existing World Wide Web. Cyber-physical systems will spew data at a scale few can barely imagine. The Internet of Interactions — between and among “Things” and “People” – requires much more than simple incremental improvements in today’s technologies to be fully realized.

What’s required is a true shift in thinking about how information, devices, people and physical systems will be integrated and how they will interact. We need an approach that is not about leveraging aging IT technology into a new application context; it’s about looking forward to a single, unified information architecture for the nearly infinite interactions to which any PERSON or any THING can contribute.  The maturation of radically new information models and architectures that can more readily evolve and integrate classical IT capabilities with real-time, state-based machines and systems.

Although the overall growth opportunities and future use cases for 3D printers are well defined, the timing of their adoption is very dependent on technological development and remains relatively uncertain. Regardless of where and when 3D printers get deployed within the manufacturing sector, value creation will largely reside in the data that is created and captured.

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Are Platforms the Real Strategic Control Point in the IoT? 

Value and profitability are playing a new game of hide-and-seek. They’re still there, but not where they used to be. If you keep looking in the same old places…well, you know what’s going to happen.

Many technology segments such as enterprise application players, collaboration software players, and even full stack SaaS players have, in our opinion, failed to re-evaluate their relationship to advancing technology and to their constituents and are increasingly finding themselves grasping for a position in the new order. 

To state the obvious, they will need to change the way they do business. And they won’t be alone. All the players in this new landscape will need to develop an understanding of the new ubiquitous-computing chain, and make some crucial decisions about where they want to live on it, and with whom.

Many players we speak to are asking about where the future “strategic control point” will be in this rapidly evolving market.  In our modeling of the Internet of Things opportunity we have found that with few exceptions, traditional silicon, connectivity, gateways, device provisioning and management to name just a few technologies are becoming declining profit activities—even though their literal growth will likely be enormous.  The higher margins these product segments generated in the past will diminish predictably and steadily.  The products will continue to exist, of course, but only as “portals” into new valuable services offerings, not as ends in themselves.

So, where do we think the real value and profit is moving and where the ever elusive strategic control point is lurking?  We think it is in the relationships between and among the data and information objects. But is this true and what does that really mean?

We believe the real value will be created in what we like to call “information automation” … a creative combination of software tools comprised of what most people refer to today as data ingestion, transformation, management and app development; a more unified and horizontal data integration and application services delivery schema that will evolve to enable the “Internet of Things and People”….a set of intelligent tools to integrate machines, people, systems of record and interactions between and among them…  to be an “orchestrator” of the pervasive Internet of Interactions?

Machine learning, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are all in some way trying to break from today’s computing paradigms to enable intelligent real-world [physical] systems.  As these devices and systems become more and more intelligent, the data they produce will become like neurons of the brain, or ants in an anthill, or human beings in a society, as well as information devices connected to each other.  The many “nodes” of a network may not be very “smart” in themselves, but if they are networked in a way that allows them to connect effortlessly and interoperate seamlessly, they begin to give rise to complex, system-wide behavior that usually goes by the name “emergence.” That is, an entirely new order of intelligence “emerges” from the system as a whole—an intelligence that could not have been predicted by looking at any of the nodes individually. There’s a distinct magic to emergence, but it happens only if the network’s nodes are free to share information and processing power.

We’re Having a Crisis of Perception About “Future Computing”

If you line up ten intelligent people and ask them what is a platform ….. well you can just imagine the number and diversity of likely answers.  If you look at the future of computing in the context of data, data relationships and data interactions, well then it becomes altogether clear that there really is no such thing as a platform…..as our friends in innovators like niolabs, Fathym, Skyfoundry and Glassbeam have kept telling us, it’s really all about the data and information architecture dummy!

In times of radical change, crises of perception are often the cause of significant failures, particularly in large established companies.  Such failures result from the inability to see emergent discontinuities.  We believe this is the case with most large developers and suppliers of technology attempting to address the emerging Internet of Things opportunity.  Many players’ assumptions about future architectures for Smart Systems are being shaped by the past and are being extrapolated into the future in a linear fashion.  Most of the large established IT systems, software, telco and network players appear to be stuck in this tyranny of replication and the sooner we can get to a “post platform” world, the sooner we will leave all this baggage behind.

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