Click to catch up on post one (intro) or post two (efficiency) in this series.

After years of economic depression, the drive to cut cost is no longer the sole priority for many IT organisations.

Efficiency will always be key, but as the economy recovers, accelerating time-to-market and agility has overtaken cost-cutting as the top priority for most forward-thinking businesses.

However, the IT department, which has grown up automating traditional business functions, is often associated with enabling or streamlining existing business processes rather than generating ideas or creating new market opportunities. Indeed, historically, the roll-out of new IT systems has been tied to monolithic software platforms and represents major, multi-year undertakings, requiring extensive testing and ongoing updates and maintenance. As such, the IT department is infrequently seen as being able to turn on a dime.

The convergence of powerful client devices, app-style software and cloud-based delivery – the third platform – is rapidly overturning these assumptions. Personal experience of smartphone apps means employees expect new software to install and run within seconds and to perform a specific function extremely well. They also expect that, if they are unable to do this with the technology supplied by their company, they can bring their own, creating a ‘covert cloud’ culture – and this can bring risks if it is not well-managed.

The ‘third platform’ also offers IT departments the means of being agile enough to easily meet the expectations and demands of their colleagues. The key ingredients for achieving this flexibility are:

  • The software-defined data centre – rather than physically deploying IT, it is now possible for a company to virtually and dynamically allocate it; instantly identifying available network capacity, storage and processing power.
  • A private/hybrid cloud model – whilst the cloud promises agility, in reality it can constrain it due to the regulatory and risk issues associated with public cloud services. This year we’ll only see 4% of enterprise IT workloads on the public cloud, but we believe many companies will adopt a hybrid model, which sees a balance of less critical services in a public cloud alongside a secure, hosted or private cloud for vital business data. This provides businesses with an effective control-layer in an era of choice.
  • Pre-engineered IT infrastructure – technology is a key element in business agility but, today, IT purchasing can be more like outsourcing, where a company buys converged IT infrastructure where integration, validation and testing is all done by an external supplier, rapidly speeding the time-to-market.
  • Flash performance (more on this later) – a wider range of apps and a richer experience for users mean that traditional disk-driven storage can be a performance bottleneck. Flash storage offers the higher performance required for powering the third platform.

For example, Netflix has worked with Pivotal to create an agile platform for delivering new IT services. The company uses a web-based application delivered via the cloud and based on a small, commonly-available software code-base. This makes it easy for new software developers to learn and boosts their productivity; it allows for easier maintenance and the faster implementation of new features – and enables the company to deliver over a billion hours of internet television to its 40 million members every month.