Smart Computing and the Next Wave of IT Innovation

Smart Computing and the Next Wave of IT Innovation

All of us in the technology industry get caught up in the near-term fluctuations and pressures of our business. This quarter's earnings, next quarter's shipments, this year's hiring plan ... it's easy to get swallowed up by the flood of immediate concerns.

So one of the things that we at Forrester are always hard at work on, and that our clients value in their relationships with us, is taking a few steps back and looking at the longer-term, bigger picture of the size and shape of the industry's trajectory. It provides strategic and financial context for the short-term fluctuations and trends that buffet all of us.

One the best indicators that we track is the ratio of IT spending to the overall economy. Looking at this data series for the U.S. over the last 50+ years, as shown in Figure 1, illustrates the dynamic growth of the IT industry from a standing start in the 1950s to close to 4 percent of the overall economy today.

But it has not been a uniform ride over that time. We have charted 3 periods of above-normal growth in the IT spending-to-GDP ratio, which we call periods of "innovation and growth."

New computing architectures (mainframe, PC, and Internet) enabled IT systems to address broader sets of business processes and issues, resulting in incremental growth for the industry. These 3 cycles of innovation were followed by slower-growth periods of "digestion and refinement" when companies put the new architectures to work and embedded them into the way companies and employees work.

We predict that the IT industry is currently embarking on its fourth wave of innovation and growth, and will enjoy 5-7 years of industry growth that will be a multiple of overall economic growth. There are many candidate technologies garnering attention as the catalyst for this fourth wave -- cloud computing and mobile Internet are the two most prominent.

figure 1


But we expect that the fourth wave will be principally driven by a set of technologies that we call Smart Computing, which extend the reach of computing systems into the realm of physical assets. New workloads and new opportunities for IT systems will come from connecting the digital realm to the physical, allowing companies a higher degree of control and optimization over assets like buildings, vehicles, transport infrastructure, and the like.

Smart Computing systems are built using an array of new and existing technology components, ranging from sensors to analytic software to content management for reporting (see Figure 2).

figure 2

Just to make it explicit, the Smart Computing-driven fourth wave has very positive implications for vendors and practitioners of corporate sustainability.

First, it provides a positive macro environment for tech spending. Secondly, many sustainability challenges are exactly the sort of asset-management problems that Smart Computing systems will address. Improving the performance of HVAC systems, data centers, vehicles, and other resource-intensive physical assets are just what Smart Computing systems are all about.

As always, we welcome your comments and thoughts about the connections you see (or don't see) between sustainability and Smart Computing.