SMACK: The Next IT Decade
By Tom Soderstrom, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer (JPL), California Institute of Technology
With the pace of technology change being what it is, I like to say an IT Decade is now three years long—and that time span is shrinking. The critical challenges we face with each new IT decade are these: how can we get a handle on the technologies that are going to invade our enterprise, and how can we proactively incorporate them into our next generation of applications and services?
The previous IT decade consisted, by our count, of nine trends: The Pervasive Cloud, Consumer-Driven IT, Eco-Friendliest, Refocused Cyber Security, You’ve Got Apps, Immersive Visualization and Interaction, Extreme Collaboration Made Simple, Big Data, and Human Behavior. The first four trends have already become cornerstones of everything we do at JPL; the last five are evolving in this direction.
When our team looks at the next IT Decade, we see one megatrend, which we call “SMACK”: Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud, and Key disruptors. Each of these is a trend, but each is also part of the larger, interrelated trend.
The trends we have identified make up a simple checklist. So when someone in your organization is building or buying an application or service, you can ask, “Have you considered SMACK?”
Here is a breakdown of SMACK’s component parts.
Social includes social networking moving into the enterprise. We can learn a lot from how apps and services are funded, built, spread, changed, and socialized in Internet space. It also includes crowdsourcing. For us that means how we can attract new groups of people to work on our problems—and, given the stiff competition for IT talent, how we attract people to work at JPL. It also means crowdfunding (e.g., Kickstarter), crowd-development (aka hackathons), crowd-ideation, etc. Naturally, it also incorporates video conferencing from any device to any device. So in developing or buying an application or service, we will ask whether it draws on Social in a productive or innovative way.
Mobile means that we’ll take a mobile-first point of view. Today’s start-ups predominantly build for mobile devices first. If there is money left over, they develop for the Web. Smartphones and wearable technology will become the heart of our computing. We already use voice, with tools like SIRI, or a gesture interface, as with Microsoft Kinect on the Xbox—but what will come next? Mobile will also include wearable technology, such as smart watches, smart rings, smart armbands, and so on. Other important trends include Augmented Reality and Bring Your Own Experience (a super-set of BYOD).
Analytics is the actionable part of Big Data, which is why it makes innate sense to people even as they manage in the hugely hyped Big Data world. In the SMACK checklist we ask development teams whether what they are building collects and makes available enough data to effectively measure its success. Does it collect the metrics to implement automated prescriptive analytics or soft degradation? How does it combine structured and unstructured data? Is it visualizing the data in an exciting and insightful way? Our goal is to create a self-service analytics environment where collaborators can combine different types of data and interact and analyze the data to gain new insights.
Cloud, the fourth part of SMACK, asks where we will run the service or application that we’re building or buying. Will it run in a private cloud, in a traditional IT data center, in a public cloud, in a hybrid cloud, or in all of them? Perhaps we simply do a prototype in a public cloud and then make changes and upgrades on the basis of customer feedback?
Key Disruptors is the final part of SMACK. We ask if this technology will change our lives. If we don’t get ahead of it, will it disrupt us? If we do get ahead of it, will it become a competitive advantage? Cloud computing and the iPhone were both key disruptors, and we got ahead of them to great advantage. A current key disruptor at JPL is 3D printing: we already use it as a brainstorming and design tool and are seeing tremendous benefits. Augmented reality and wearable technology are others in which we can already see great potential.
Any application or service we consider—and anything that will succeed in the next IT decade—must be simple. That means simple to understand, simple to use, and simple to lose: in other words, if it doesn’t work out, we can move on and do something else with few consequences. Technology for the coming IT decade also needs to be self-service and participatory so that users can get to it at any time.
With the previous decade of nine IT trends winding down, it’s nice to be able to focus on just one. We learned a lot from the Human Behavior trend and have incorporated those lessons into SMACK. We found that it isn’t enough to simply hand end users the new technology. Instead, we need to prototype it together with them and provide an IT concierge (virtual and human) to show them how to access it. As you consider what to prototype and what to pilot in your own enterprise, consider the SMACK checklist, which can help you to decide whether something is a fad or worthy of sustained attention. If it is a Key Disrupter and you provide an IT concierge, your organization is likely to see a tremendous return on that investment.