It’s that time of year again, where businesses and analysts start forecasting what the biggest trends of the coming year will be. Being able to accurately foresee the potential opportunities and challenges ahead is vital for any enterprise that wants to get ahead of its competitors and ensure it remains at the cutting edge of its industry.

In its list of 2014 predictions, technology research firm IDC introduced the term the “third platform,” saying the concept will be a primary driver of technology growth in the future.

The “third platform” encompasses a combination of technologies that will are rapidly being integrated into the core of every business’ IT strategy. These include cloud computing, enterprise mobility, big data analytics and use of social networking to overhaul how companies do business and communicate with users.

On a recent webinar, IDC Chief Analyst Frank Gens said that the influence of the third platform will extend far beyond a simple evolution of how certain activities function. While the IT sector is expected to grow by 5 percent year-over-year, 89 percent of the increase will be driven by “third platform” solutions.

Communicating with consumers

Consumer-facing industries are embracing “third platform” solutions at a particularly rapid pace.

For instance, retail companies are leveraging these technologies to provide a better level of customer service. That’s a major change from past years, when the retail sector was often seen as a laggard in IT innovation.

People are increasingly using social media for customer service.

Social networks “will become the standard foundation for customer engagement, marketing and selling,” Gens said.

By 2017, 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies will have an “active customer community”— up from just 30 percent today.

Mobility in the enterprise

Mobility—another tenet of the “third platform”—will affect how companies handle internal and external communications.

“Dollar sales of smartphones and tablets will continue to dwarf those of PCs, outselling PCs by about 2.5 to one,” Gens said. With PC sales expected to drop by 6 percent (compared an increase of 12 percent and 18 percent for smartphones and tablets respectively), enterprises that do not embrace mobility will be left behind, Gens said.

Getting enterprise apps to work across a fragmented mobile ecosystem will continue to be a big challenge in the coming year. Gens predicts that Android developers will continue to improve the quality of their offerings. For Microsoft, 2014 will be a “do or die” year for the Windows Phone platform, which gets very little attention from the developer community.

The cloud keeps growing

The cloud will be the “core” of the third platform, Gens said.

Cloud spending next year—including both central technologies and the supporting services needed to enable them—will likely surpass $100 billion.

The idea of the cloud as a one-size-fits-all solution will be comprehensively rejected as the number of choices available expands.

“It’s going to be where you now have the widest range of options, and soon it will be the first place to get general access to new solutions,” Gens said, noting this will affect both hardware and software services sectors.