The Third Platform: What is it and what it means for your business

by Satya Hariharan 02 Mar 2016

Satya Hariharan of Ricoh IT Services looks at the promise of the third phase in business technology – and the opportunities it’s already offering

The Third Platform, a term coined in 2007 by analyst firm IDC and sometimes referred to as the ‘SMAC stack’, can be defined as the integration of mobile computing; big data and analytics; social media; and cloud computing – as well as the Internet of Things. It’s the foundation for the next generation of business technology.

According to Gartner1, the nexus of social, mobile, cloud and information (meaning big data and analytics) is transforming the way individuals and businesses relate to technology. Ultimately, large and small businesses alike are set to become increasingly agile and responsive to the ever-changing digital world; this is because the Third Platform is all about speed, growth, consolidation and innovation.

The First and Second Platforms

To truly delve into what the Third Platform is, we need to examine what came before…

The First Platform is mainframe computing, which businesses began to deploy in the 1950s, and still continues to evolve today. Predominantly used by larger organisations for bulk data processing and critical applications, these systems were initially produced by a group of manufacturers known as ‘IBM and the Seven Dwarfs’.

The First Platform was extended in the mid-1960s by minicomputers from the likes of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Data General, Wang and Prime – which clustered along Boston’s Route 128, the precursor to Silicon Valley. This made in-house computing possible for the next tier of companies – but small businesses tended to use ‘Bureaus’ which, ironically, offered much what cloud service providers do today!

The Second Platform emerged in the 1980s when standalone ‘micro’ or Personal Computers began communicating with applications and mainframe databases2 as clients with their own processing power, rather than ‘dumb’ terminals; eventually becoming server systems themselves. By the 1990s, businesses were running client/server networks that no longer relied on mainframe processing at the core – making computing increasingly affordable for smaller businesses and remote locations.

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The four pillars of the Third Platform

As with the Second Platform, expanded access forms an integral part of Third Platform technologies – meaning data can be accessed from anywhere, with any device, at any given time. This time, the internet is delivering services that reduce the cost of business technology and make it ubiquitous – increasing availability and flexibility for organisations, their staff and customers alike. The four pillars of the Third Platform include:

  1. Mobile - one of the main purposes of the Third Platform (and something that really defines it) is to enable access to enterprise applications and data via mobile devices and tablets. GPS location services is an increasingly useful tool for business operations, as organisations are beginning to envisage and realise the potential of wearables (especially for OH&S and remote field operations) as well as tracking within the Internet of Things.
  2. Social - technology facilitates communication and collaboration between individuals and organisations. We’re likely to see aspects of social injected into almost every product and service in the near future. Cloud provides the infrastructure, social technology facilitates access, and mobile technology is the means by which we can access the data and information.
  3. Big Data & Analytics - large organisation that streamlines its business functions by utilising the Third Platform facilitates easy access to all data and, more importantly, makes it easier to run analyses and support real-time, informed decision-making throughout each area of a business. Whether it’s an eCommerce site using analytics to make truly relevant shopping cart suggestions – or an insurance firm using meteorological data to determine policy holders who were likely to be impacted based on their location – analytics and Business Intelligence are actively increasing revenues.
  4. Cloud Computing - without the cloud, you could conclude that the Third Platform would cease to exist because it would not be possible to access data away from the office. The Second Platform depended on costly private Wide Area Networks (WANs) to make enterprise systems available beyond the head office data centre. From the late 1990s, businesses began migrating their IT systems onto colocation servers and storage, then onto virtual (and even shared) devices. With today’s Hybrid Cloud solutions, businesses can put their systems wherever it makes best sense, based on risk, cost and available resources such as space and skills.

What the Third Platform means for business technology

The Third Platform is already disrupting the way technology is purchased by businesses of every kind and size. According to IDC3, the Australian IT services market will be worth AU$19.7b by 2019, with the majority of this growth expected to come from application management, network consulting, integration and network management.

Additionally, IDC predicts that in 20164 we’ll see up to 65% of global competitive strategies demanding real-time Third Platform IT-as-a-service. This highlights just how critical it has become to recognise that the way IT services are delivered and managed is fundamentally changing. The need for a mature, business-oriented technology strategy is becoming clearer.

Managed IT services delivered via the Third Platform enable you to embrace all the benefits of new technology to improve the way your business functions, shares information and collaborates. All without the traditional capital and resource costs of owning your own dedicated IT platform.

About the Author

Based in Melbourne, Satya Hariharan is a Product & Marketing Manager within Ricoh’s IT Services division. With a Masters in IT from Griffith University, he has over a decade’s experience in bringing new business technology products to market. Specialising in cloud-based services, he has successfully delivered cutting-edge products from virtual infrastructure to document management, enabling key differentiation in the market for Ricoh. Passionate about technology, including all things cloud and collaboration, Satya takes a keen interest in digital strategy and implementation.

  1. Gartner, The Nexus of Forces: Social, Mobile, Cloud and Information, 2014
  2. IDC, Defining the Third IT Platform: Key 2014 Trends Identified, 2015
  3. IDC, The 3rd Platform and what it means for Infrastructure Vendor Services, 2015
  4. IDC, PlanScape: Accelerating IT’s Progress to Business Maturity, 2015