The Nexus of Forces: Social, Mobile, Cloud and Information

G00234840

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Summary

The Nexus of Forces is the convergence and mutual reinforcement of social, mobility, cloud and information patterns that drive new business scenarios.

Analysis

A Nexus of converging forces — social, mobile, cloud and information — is building upon and transforming user behavior while creating new business opportunities.

What We Saw

Research over the past several years has identified the independent evolution of four powerful forces: social, mobile, cloud and information. As a result of consumerization and the ubiquity of connected smart devices, people's behavior has caused a convergence of these forces. This user-centric convergence was highlighted at Symposium/ITxpo 2011, where the keynote touched on the story emerging around the Nexus and raised a warning to senior IT leaders: Their existing architectures are becoming obsolete.

Figure 1. The Nexus of Forces
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (June 2012)

In the Nexus of Forces, information is the context for delivering enhanced social and mobile experiences. Mobile devices are a platform for effective social networking and new ways of work. Social links people to their work and each other in new and unexpected ways. Cloud enables delivery of information and functionality to users and systems. The forces of the Nexus are intertwined to create a user-driven ecosystem of modern computing.

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What We See

The Nexus is the technology-immersed environment, and that environment drives business at an increasingly accelerated pace. Using multiple devices and applications of their choosing, people connect with one another and interact with a wealth of information. Whether they realize it or not, the seamlessness of their experiences and access to data relies more and more on an underlying cloud infrastructure. When these people are also employees, they carry expectations of this prolific interactivity and information access with them into the workplace.

Leading companies are taking advantage of Nexus dynamics to create innovative products and services, reaching new customers in new contexts. These companies understand the subtle relationships between behavior, sentiment, history, location and intention and are able to adjust to the prevailing winds without uprooting business models and system architectures. Traditional companies struggle with this adaptivity, both from a business and IT perspective (indeed, IT is often part of the problem because it may keep an organization from capitalizing on new opportunities). Whether it be vendors, end users, private companies, governments, hospitals or universities, all organizations that produce or consume IT are affected by the Nexus of Forces, and they need to choose how they will respond.

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What We Predict

Tools will continue to improve, and access to information will grow wider and deeper. Technocentrism gives way to human-centered design. People will become even more sophisticated consumers and co-creators of technology and content. They will share their experiences and preferences, leading to broad adoption at an accelerating pace. To support the fluid dynamics of the Nexus of Forces, providers of technology will have to get comfortable with a new complexion of control, one where autonomy is provided against a nonintrusive foundation of revitalized infrastructure and operational systems and processes.

These advances don't come without increased complexity: That's just the nature of technology evolution. For users, however, things get simpler and more aligned with their intentions. Donald Norman captured this paradox in "The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex, and Information Appliances Are the Solution":

Most technology goes through cycles of development and change in both internal and external complexity. Often, the very first device is simple, but crude. As the device undergoes the early stages of development, its power and efficiency improve, but so does its complexity. As the technology matures, however, simpler, more effective ways of doing things are developed, and the device becomes easier to use, although usually by becoming more complex inside.

The management of this complexity falls on the ecosystem of technology providers — from enterprise IT shops to cloud service providers to device manufacturers — and the ease with which pieces fit together and flex around unforeseen scenarios. The task of enterprise leaders is to hide complexity under a layer of simplicity.

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At the Core: Social, Mobile, Cloud and Information Converge and Reinforce

Not that long ago, people's most sophisticated computing experience was at work, and computing was limited at home. Now, in most cases, the opposite is true. The consumerization of IT is a result of the availability of excellent devices, interfaces and applications with minimal learning curves. These devices — especially smartphones and tablets — and their application ecosystems are what the philosopher Martin Heidegger might have called "ready-to-hand," meaning that they fit the tasks and intentions of the user without getting in the way.

The key to design lies in understanding the readiness-to-hand of the tools being built […]. [W]e can create tools that are designed to make the maximal use of human perception and understanding without projecting human capacities onto the computer. 1

As a result of using these well-designed devices, people have become more sophisticated users of technology: The individual is empowered. People expect access to similar functionality across all their roles and make fewer distinctions between work and nonwork activities. People have come to expect and make use of presence and location services, contextual search results, and spontaneous interaction with their social networks to enhance everyday experiences. And they spread those experiences across multiple devices, often at the same time.

To preserve this highly interactive experience, several dependencies act together:

  • Access to relevant, stateful information requires access to ubiquitous cloud services where that information is made available.

  • People are mobile, and they require devices and applications in their hands as opposed to (only) machines tethered to a desk.

  • Location data (for example, from a device) shapes the enormous amount of potential data into information that is most relevant.

  • Access to social networks implies a personally relevant transactional experience that is integrated into, and initiated from, a social platform (for example, Facebook).

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Business Scenarios and Opportunities

Consider the evolution of Amazon. In the mid-1990s, Jeff Bezos spotted an opportunity to create a mail order store on the emerging Internet that would make use of a searchable database. Books were a natural product for such a database because of the vast number of available titles and the reliance on the combination of information and physical form. Over time, Amazon enlarged its portfolio of merchandise and extended its reach through partner relationships. The Kindle ushered in a new paradigm for readers and closed the gap between idea ("I should read that!") and delivery (quick transaction using my "1-Click" settings and immediate download to my handheld device). New self-publishing models at Amazon now make it much easier for authors to deliver their work into the hands of new readers without the overhead of provisioning physical merchandise or the logistics of traditional delivery. In this mobile, contextualized, cloud-driven, information-centric scenario, all parties benefit more immediately: reader, author, provider (publisher) and proxy (retailer). The dark side of this accelerated delivery model is the shuttering of traditional bookstores that, while providing an important tactile and personal experience, cannot keep up with the pace of demand.

How are you enabling consumers to get their results more quickly? How are you empowering your knowledge workers to share their ideas? How long until your business closes its doors because it can't keep up with new delivery models?

In many of our homes, we have theatre-quality entertainment experiences. Increasingly, those experiences involve streaming high-quality video and audio across fast Internet connections for delivery on devices throughout the home. Again, the time gap has closed from idea ("We should watch that!") to delivery (log onto Netflix, BBC iPlayer, iTunes or other providers and press "Play"). Who has patience to wait for the mail or drive to the corner video store? Oh, and by the way, the corner video store isn't there anymore. Providers of these services use the cloud to achieve scale and reach, while your collection of devices use the cloud to enable seamless playback experience from room to room and from wall to hand.

What could your business deliver to paying users if your systems and business models allowed? What delivery methods are you clinging to that are holding you back? Are your customers going somewhere else?

At my local outdoor farmers market set up in a grassy field, the seller of heirloom tomatoes is cashless — well, she keeps cash on hand (just in case), but keeps it quiet. When I buy a bag of perfect purple beefsteaks, she swipes my debit card on her Square mobile card reader and I sign with my finger. My receipt is in my inbox, and her cash is in the bank the next day. Once more, the gap has closed from idea ("Those tomatoes would be great for dinner!") to delivery (on the scale, in the bag, on my way), especially in a day when the "idea" is more likely: "Those tomatoes would be great for dinner, but I don't have any cash on me, and the closest ATM is five miles away."

What is keeping your customers from acting on your services? How can you enable instant transactions — not only transactions of money, but also ideas?

The choices available for information, entertainment and purchasing are overwhelming. Consumers cannot browse every blog, headline or newspaper available to them to decide what to read. They cannot sample every movie or song that comes out every week to decide what is worthwhile. Increasingly, they rely on their friends or trusted others to recommend where they should spend their attention. RSS readers sit unused because people rely on retweets or Facebook "Likes" to decide what to read. Professional movie and music reviewers become less relevant as consumers depend on the friends they trust for recommendations. Professional analysts (potentially even those at Gartner) could lose some of their influence because social techniques make it easier for people to reach their peers for advice.

Are you relying on increasingly obsolete promotional channels to let people hear about your product? Do you know who the real influencers are?

These are examples of well-known scenarios that harness the Nexus of Forces, but every day, entrepreneurs test new ideas that push the boundaries of traditional business models and the IT that supports those models. Ideas that make the technology transparent while enhancing human behavior will gain a foothold in this fast-paced ecosystem. End-user organizations and technology providers that are slow to move will be left far behind.

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The Four Forces

Each of the four forces of the Nexus provides a starting point for research. Depending where your particular interest or experience lies, you can begin from any force and work your way toward the middle, building an understanding of the dependencies that hold the Nexus of Forces together.

Social

[T]he creative tension generated by the mingling of people from different fields, different backgrounds, and different expectations makes a critical contribution [to collective experience]. Among other things, such experience helps provide not only knowledge and information that people don't know they need, but also the skill to judge the worthwhile from the worthless — an increasingly important skill in an age of ubiquitous and often unreliable information. 2

Social is one of the most compelling examples of how consumerization drives enterprise IT practices. It's hard to think of an activity that is more personal than sharing comments, links and recommendations with friends. Nonetheless, enterprises were quick to see the potential benefits. Comments and recommendations don't have to be among friends about last night's game or which shoes to buy; they can also be among colleagues about progress of a project or which supplier provides good value. Consumer vendors were even quicker to see the influence — for good or ill — of friends sharing recommendations on what to buy.

Social technologies both drive and depend on the other three Nexus forces:

  • Social provides an important need for mobility: Accessing social networks is one of the primary uses of mobile devices. Indeed, it is the main reason that many people acquire more powerful smartphones instead of simple portable phones. Social interactions are transient, fleeting and spontaneous. They have much more value when they are possible wherever the user is located.

  • Social depends on cloud for scale and access: Social networks benefit from scale, the kind of scale that is really only practical through cloud deployment.

  • Social feeds and depends on deep analysis: Social interactions provide a rich source of information about connections, preferences and intentions. As social networks get larger, participants need better tools to be able to manage the growing numbers of interactions, which drives the need for deeper social analytics.

Mobile

I'm a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they're interested in. 3

Walk down the typical crowded street, and half the people you see will be looking at or talking on their mobile phones. Mobile devices are the constant gateway of attention. And it's personal: Many users would give up other essentials rather than give up their handheld companion. It is their constant point of interaction to their social world, where their most trusted personal and business relationships are maintained. Through the window in their palm, they are never alone, never lost, and never bored.

Mobile computing is forcing the biggest change to the way people live since the automobile. And like the automotive revolution, there are many secondary impacts. It changes where people can work. It changes how they spend their day. Mass adoption forces new infrastructure. It spawns new businesses. And it threatens the status quo.

For business, the opportunities — and the stakes — are high. To a retailer, the same device that navigates a customer into a store can redirect the final sale to the competition. To a bank, the mobile phone is a new wallet that could make the credit card obsolete. To a sales organization, mobile computing keeps salespeople out in the field talking to customers. To a medical caregiver, a patient's vitals and behaviors may be constantly monitored, which increases the effectiveness and efficiency of treatment. Every industry is affected.

But mobile does not stand alone as an isolated phenomenon: Devices will come and go faster all the time. New form factors will emerge. People will interact with multiple screens working in concert. Sensor data will transparently enhance the experience, integrating the virtual and physical worlds contextually. The information gathered in this immersive world will have tremendous value.

Ultimately, the lasting relationship will be between a user and a cloud-based ecosystem.

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Cloud

The utility model of computing — computing resources delivered over the network in much the same way that electricity or telephone service reaches our homes and offices today — makes more sense than ever. 4

This "utility model of computing" that Scott McNealy described in 2001 is at the heart of cloud computing now, more than a decade later. Cloud computing represents the glue for all the forces of the Nexus. It is the model for delivery of whatever computing resources are needed and for activities that grow out of such delivery. Without cloud computing, social interactions would have no place to happen at scale, mobile access would fail to be able to connect to a wide variety of data and functions, and information would be still stuck inside internal systems.

The model of cloud computing is what we call a "global-class" phenomenon because it focuses us on outcomes connected across the globe rather than technologies and outcomes centered on an internal enterprise strategy. There is no need to spend forever vetting technology acquisitions when we can sign up for a service and use it without having to care about the underlying technologies. No need to spend 80% of our IT budget just "keeping the lights on" when we can offload much of that to service providers who can deliver it more efficiently than we can and change the "light bulbs" for us.

In a global-class computing world, everything shifts to the culture of the consumer and the externalized view of computing. This plays nicely into the ideas of the Nexus because that externalization of computing is what allows the forces to converge and thrive. Mobile independent software vendors using cloud services have more options to access information and processes than ever before — without having to own it all. Crowdsourcing can be done through mobile communities because the cloud allows them all to exist in the same "workspace" rather than being isolated in enterprise or single-PC environments. And, the cloud is the carrier ecosystem for a wide variety of data forms, both structured and unstructured. This data can be gathered from cloud-based communities, through cloud services, from mobile endpoints, and all in a consistent and globally available environment.

The cloud force is the glue of the Nexus and will drive the monetization of Nexus relationships as it drives the service enablement of IT across the world.

Information

Information is not stored anywhere in particular. Rather, it is stored everywhere. Information is better thought of as "evoked" rather than "found." 5

For years, technologists have discussed the ubiquity of information without realizing how to take full advantage of it. That time is here now. Social, mobile and cloud make information accessible, shareable and consumable by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Knowing how to capture the power of the ubiquity of information and utilize the smaller subsets applicable to your company, your product and your customers, at a specific point in time, will be critical to new opportunities and for avoiding risks.

Developing a discipline of innovation through information enables organizations to respond to environmental, customer, employee or product changes as they occur. It will enable companies to leap ahead of their competition in operational or business performance.

An enterprise can succeed or fail based on how it responds to trends such as:

  • Social media: People are sharing detailed information about themselves, the products they use, and the companies they like (or don't like) in social media. Prior to social, getting specific data about customers/consumers was costly and aggregate in nature. Harnessing the information in social media allows organizations to understand the customer, or potential customer, in ways never before possible.

  • Cloud computing: Cloud is both the underpinning of the massive amounts of information generated by social media and the primary model for elasticity in accessing and storing information in a cost-effective manner.

  • Mobile: People are no longer tied to a specific location. The devices they use enable ubiquitous integration of work and nonwork tasks while providing easy access to application ecosystems, social networks and information.

Technology advances in the information space offer a chance to exploit these trends to meet a business's long-standing demand for better data with which to make fact-based decisions. Content analytics, social analytics, in-memory databases, Hadoop and other technologies can deliver better access/analysis of more varieties and volumes of information at lower costs.

Success requires an IT organization to understand the business requirements for new information and how it can affect measurable business outcomes and help drive innovation. At the same time, information demand can quickly outstrip the IT organization's ability to deliver. The increasing volume, variety and velocity of information will overwhelm familiar disciplines for accessing, storing, managing, analyzing, governing, presenting, collaborating on and sharing information. The IT organization must develop an iterative information strategy to guide its response to business requirements for information. Gartner's research will help CIOs, IT leaders and enterprise architects develop such an information strategy.

Challenges for Traditional IT

Traditional IT relies on engineering and prescription: I build a specific tool and teach you how to use it. Now, because of consumerization and democratization of IT, more control has shifted to the user, and the role of IT is to adapt and absorb, not just prescribe. Inflexibility of systems causes increased brittleness and divergence from their original use cases, thus making it difficult to address the fluid nature of human behavior as described by neurophysiologist William H. Calvin:

Inconsistency is part of flexibility, of nature's strategy of keeping options open. Animals that cannot adapt to new environments will not survive the incessant fluctuations of climate. Judicial systems that cannot grow and change with our society's evolving problems will become rigid anachronisms that promote social earthquakes. Consistency and rationality are human virtues in dealing with certain potentially orderly situations; we make excellent use of them in engineering and legal systems, but we shouldn't expect living systems to have made them centerpiece of their operation in a changing, unpredictable world. 6

Enter the IT executives and their staff. How prepared are they to deliver what the sophisticated, creative and sometimes circumventive user requires? IT departments are faced with legacy architectures, processes and skills designed for an increasingly obsolescent way of working. Along with those legacy architectures come legacy mind-sets and habits, all of which must be changed to deal with the Nexus of Forces.

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Architectural Dependencies and Responses: The Well Is Deep

The combination of shifting control, hyperflexibility and extreme collaboration underlying new user scenarios has deep architectural implications: How do you offer users autonomy, flexibility and choice without endangering underlying systems and data? The four forces reinforce one another (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Basic Relationships Among the Nexus Forces
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (June 2012)

The reinforcing nature of the four Nexus forces provides a foundation for sophisticated human behavior that relies on high usability and access to information and applications that support that behavior (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Behavior, Usability and Context in the Nexus of Forces
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (June 2012)

The dynamics shown in Figure 3 in turn have nontrivial application architecture implications that impact how functionality is composed and delivered (see Figure 4). Many of the choices that architects will make in conjunction with Figure 4 will affect access to appropriate data for given roles. In addition, there are multiple design inflection points (for example, providing mobile, offline access to data) that have major ramifications for system complexity, identity and access, risk management, and cost.

Figure 4. Application Architecture Implications in the Nexus of Forces
Research image courtesy of Gartner, Inc.

Source: Gartner (June 2012)

Gartner is producing research to closely examine architectural dependencies in the Nexus of Forces and to advise architects and technology leaders concerning design requirements and trade-offs. This will include research into emerging technologies at all levels of the IT portfolio.

Conclusion

Four independent forces — social, mobile, cloud and information — have converged as a result of human behavior, which creates a technology-immersed environment. The forces interact and reinforce one another and are associated through complex dependencies. New business opportunities emerge from this Nexus of Forces, especially scenarios that extend reach and relationship to customers, citizens, patients, employees or any other participant in an ecosystem of humans and machines. The combination of pervasive mobility, near-ubiquitous connectivity, industrial compute services, and information access decreases the gap between idea and action. To take advantage of the Nexus of Forces and respond effectively, organizations must face the challenges of modernizing their systems, skills and mind-sets. Organizations that ignore the Nexus of Forces will be displaced by those that can move into the opportunity space more quickly — and the pace is accelerating.

Notes

1 T. Winograd and F. Flores, "Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design," Addison-Wesley, 1987, p. 137.

2 J. Brown and P. Duguid, "The Social Life of Information," Harvard Business School Press, 2000, p. 219.

3 Bill Gates, Digital Dividends Conference, Seattle, 18 October 2000.

4 S. McNealy , CBS MarketWatch, 20 December 2001.

5 D. Rumelhart and D. Norman, "A Comparison of Models," in G. Hinton and J. Anderson, eds., "Parallel Models of Associative Memory," Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1981.

6 W. Calvin, "The Cerebral Symphony: Seashore Reflections on the Structure of Consciousness," Bantam Books, 1989, p. 313.

© 2012 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction and distribution of this publication in any form without prior written permission is forbidden. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. Although Gartners research may discuss legal issues related to the information technology business, Gartner does not provide legal advice or services and its research should not be construed or used as such. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

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