To hear IT vendors talk, everything is either a "platform" or a "solution". A few extra-special offerings are even presented as being both a platform and a solution. I flinch at both those words and give great grief to vendors who pitch to me using one or both of them.
Almost no marketing pitch containing the concept of "solution" is remotely honest. Usually, a product that might credibly be part of the solution to a problem is falsely presented as solving the whole thing. And those are the less-bad usages of the word, in which marketers actually suggest some kind of problem that the so-called solution might solve.
The situation with platforms, however, is not quite as dire. While traditional marketing about platforms is generally bogus, the concept of "platform" is still a useful one, and it's worth examining how the term is changing in meaning.
In its classic meaning, platform is most commonly used to denote a set of operating software -- such as an operating system or database management system -- upon which a large portion of IT investment rests.
However, the heyday of that kind of platform is pretty much over.
Almost everything that resembles an important new platform is instead open-standard or even open-source. Even when a single-vendor standard does sweep the industry, such as Sun's Java or Microsoft's Internet Explorer, it is so wrapped in openness that the vendor doesn't actually make much money from its accomplishment.
Almost every enterprise has traditional OLTP data, a data warehouse, a set of plans and forecasts, e-mail, identity/presence data, a network/IT asset database, network/security event data, source code, published marketing content (at least on a Web site), generic documents and a catchall category I'll call "analytic event capture" that subsumes Web site logs, manufacturing equipment data, RFID data and the like. Also common but less universal are engineering designs, call centre logs and many other information types. Every single one of these requires a different information management system.
Those management systems -- and, even more, the real or virtual databases they manage -- are the true IT platforms of the present and future.
Curt Monash is a consultant