George Newstrom


Dell's Newstrom on the 3rd Platform of IT

Technology shift feeds opportunity for savings, innovation

The landmark technology shift that the market research firm IDC has dubbed the 3rd Platform in a whitepaper sponsored by Dell, is to say the least, a whole lot more than a place to catch a train.

To clarify, and simplify a bit, the IDC whitepaper "Making the Case: IT Consolidation and Powerful New Platforms — A Call to Action for Boosting Government Productivity," [Document #GI238094, April 2013] outlines the concept like this:

The 1st Platform was marked by room-sized computer terminals and mainframes of the 1950s that amazed everyone with the ability to perform thousands of functions in what was then record time.

The 2nd Platform – a mere quarter-century old – brought many of us the opportunity to interact further with our technology, evolving to the point where PCs went from novelty items to being ubiquitous additions to our homes and offices. It also heralded the birth of client/server solutions for businesses, which were initially very expensive and, in areas with lower bandwidths, hard to procure. As such they can also be hard to let go of, but as it is with most things – the heyday of this platform has come to an end.

The 3rd Platform is today’s revolution: mobile devices, social media, big data, the availability of comprehensive analytics, global reach, and a global economy. In the beginning it was a big deal to get a hotel room with an internet adapter. Now you can do business on a plane. Or attend a meeting from a bus terminal.

What does it all mean – especially for government organizations?

In an economy with more stops than starts of late, to ignore the opportunities presented by the 3rd platform is to risk slowing one of America’s defining characteristics – its pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit.

With federal budget talks stalled and sequestration measures beginning to sink in, it’s more important than ever for policy and decision makers at the federal level and below to look deeply into what the “3rd Platform” is and isn’t, and how more and more solutions to the problems government entities are experiencing, specifically reconciling shrinking budgets with expanding needs of their IT infrastructure, are rapidly building up in the cloud.

An important example of the way government is already paying attention can be found in Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA 49) Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). Even at a time when many feel Washington is moving more methodically than ever, Issa and the other authors and stakeholders of FITARA have quickly come-up with a means to help government more effectively address their aging IT infrastructure.

In the latest draft, the committee deleted references to so-called “commodity IT,” which the Office of Management and Budget has been tossing around for years. That term has been repositioned as “infrastructure and common applications.”  Why is this important? The word “commodity,” in terms of sales and business development, implies a focus on pricing – whereas the new wording allows for emphasis on product differentiation, value and results. 

Loosely translated, “product differentiation, value and results” are the drivers of free enterprise in the American tradition – the underpinnings of an entrepreneurial spirit that encourages continuing research, development, and innovation. At a fundamental level, it also means jobs – and the impetus to keep consolidation, standardization and innovation in the government happening at a brisk pace.

In his January 25, 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama said that innovation will be the key to our revival:

“Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs – from manufacturing to retail – that have come from these breakthroughs.”  
That’s a non-partisan mandate that should ring true for all of us. The good news is, with the potential offered through cloud services and a successful paradigm shift away from costly client/server solutions, the private sector has gotten a jump on technologies that can help streamline government operations and trim billions – if not trillions – of dollars from the national deficit.

The downside is that we know the road isn’t smooth. We’ll face obstacles and complications and critics and, in some cases, we’ll be paving it as we go.

We know that, as expensive as it may be to maintain outdated legacy systems and as difficult as it may be to find the talent pool to maintain them, building a more cost-effective and efficient new infrastructure can be daunting and, well, expensive through the trial-and-error phase.

 However, by taking advantage of the cloud services some government agencies have already implemented and by piggy-backing on their documented success, we know that the road can get us there.

Studies and whitepapers, like the one commissioned by Dell, show that the government decision and policy makers tasked with finding a way to consolidate and standardize the myriad of supply chains that make up public services can rise to the challenge. They can find their way to the technology services we have available to help – so that we can all keep moving; so that government can better tap-in to the potential offered by 3rd Platform technologies; so, in the end, they can more effectively and efficiently accomplish their mission.

About the Author

George Newstrom is the general manager of Dell Services Federal Government. He also is the former CIO of the state of Virginia.

Reader Comments

Fri, Apr 26, 2013

Interesting piece George. Randy

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