Years ago I remember reading the frustrated comments of venerable, former Intel CEO Andy Grove, lamenting how powerful his microprocessors were becoming, but that selling PCs running on them was increasingly difficult.

There was really no reason for consumers and businesses to trade up. Software innovation was woefully behind hardware innovation and until it caught up, computers with high-speed chips inside would be like driving Ferraris in rush hour traffic.

What a difference a few years can make.

We have been tracking a fascinating trend that's worth examining further, and far more closely. The data deluge gripping the enterprise and consumers, which will signal a marked shift from application specific platforms to the data itself acting as the platform.

This is a significant shift that goes part and parcel with the pace of innovation in hardware and software, and those who recognize the shift today will be in a far better position tomorrow to integrate it successfully across their IT platforms.

The New York Times recently cited research by an independent White House advisory group of scientists and engineers showing that far more performance gains in computers nowadays come from tweaks in software rather than changes in microprocessors.

Detractors of this theorem will claim that software innovation comes simply as a result of faster, more powerful chips.

That debate has never been more important than today as key trends begin to shape the current and next generation of computing.

Apple's App Store has ignited a proliferation of software programming development the likes of which the tech industry has never seen before.

Smart phone growth is leading to an explosion of data available anytime, all the time, and from anywhere. Cloud computing is redistributing where and when we can store and access data.

The data itself is far more complex and chaotic than it used to be: Tweets, blogs, email, video clips, music and digital entertainment, and more of that is either HD, 3-D, or complex audio algorithms.

Platform springboard
In Accenture's Technology Vision 2011 report last month, we examined these trends and concluded — maybe controversially, that while app development might be exploding, a world where the data itself becomes the platform will soon be upon us.

Applications will always be important, but the platform to access them will be more so; that platform architectures will be selected primarily to cope with soaring volumes of data and the complexity of data management, not for their ability to support this or that application.

Where does this take us from here?

Around the time Andy Grove was watching software try to catch up with his hardware, the other big shift in the tech world was from mainframe and dumb terminals to personal computers, where everyone, it seemed, wanted everything they could ever need on their own hard drives.

Today, thanks to the internet, the cloud, smart phones, laptops and tablets, we're seeing a kind of Back to the Future moment, except the mainframe has been replaced by cloud servers, and the devices accessing the data are far more intelligent than they used to be.

My device's individual power will take a secondary role to the power and speed of my connection to the network, and how quickly I can access the data I need that will live in the Cloud.

This is a fundamental change, and why dorm-room start-ups are eschewing the cache of social networking in hopes of creating the next Facebook, and attracting tens of millions of dollars in VC money as they create the next big thing in the cloud.

Just like the kids at, and the $48m (£29.7m) they have already attracted, fresh out of college.

These are not theoretical or hypothetical changes. They are occurring already, and the companies that recognize and adjust for them now will be far more efficient and their data far more secure and accessible.

Data management yesterday was important; today it is competitively critical. IT managers, CTOs and CIOs sceptical of the Cloud and new ways to manage mushrooming data, run the risk of putting their entire enterprise at risk.

Take note: As mentioned in Accenture's 2011 Tech Vision, the roles of application and data will be reversed, with data becoming the platform that supports application services.

It will happen sooner than you think.

Are you ready?

Gavin Michael, global managing director for R&D and Alliances, Accenture

Pic: whiskymac cc2.0