If you’re the CIO at a large enterprise today, you’ve perfected an acrobatic act worthy of Cirque du Soleil. Each day, you perform the impossible: making the best use of the mainframe, thousands of distributed servers, and hundreds of existing applications, all while deploying new applications and providing business services to end users non-stop.

But success requires more than just acrobatic prowess; you must also help build the future. The coolest part about technological disruptions is the way they leave the next steps wide open for all of us. By focusing on what’s not here yet as much as on what is, you can communicate a compelling vision of what’s coming in a way that inspires your teams to deliver what’s next and ensures agile, competitive advantage for your enterprise.

This column will aim to help you learn about what’s coming so you can envision, communicate, and implement next-generation enterprise computing and provide cost-effective, reliable business services to your users. 

Let’s start with an imagination exercise. If you were designing the perfect application delivery platform, what would it look like? I’ve spoken to current and former CIOs and other experts and included my own thoughts, and what has emerged is a vision with four distinct parts.

The first part of the vision isn’t very sexy, but it’s true: Your company’s entire existing IT infrastructure isn’t likely to go away because of the cloud. Given the decades of reliable success of the mainframe and distributed platforms, they will continue to play an important role in application delivery for years to come.

Since enterprises aren’t likely to discard their entire existing IT infrastructure, the transformation into the next-generation application delivery platform requires the second element of the vision: a catalog of components that allows IT leaders to build an application by leveraging the best of their past, current, and future IT investments. The catalog features pre-configured IT application building blocks from your existing infrastructure and from the external cloud that you combine (plug and play) into new business services. When you build an application using the catalog, you will be able to select what you need from a single user interface. Whether you’re looking for a mainframe database, a distributed Web server or bandwidth from the cloud, it will be right there for you to select. Another powerful capability of the catalog is the ability to indicate what components are acceptable for the future and what’s being deprecated to discourage future use.

After you make your choices from the catalog, you will leverage the third element of the vision: an IT application configuration fabric that makes it easy for you to build applications by pulling items from the catalog, dropping them onto the fabric and connecting them on a common visual canvas.  This kind of approach would make it quick and easy for you to create enterprise applications. The fabric treats the application as one entity as it traverses the infrastructure. Having all the application building blocks visually represented on a single canvas reduces the complexity associated with application design, deployment and management by making it easy for you to see each element in its context with other elements in the infrastructure.

Of course, the legacy infrastructure, the catalog and the application configuration fabric would be useless without the fourth, and most important, element: a unified management platform. Linked to the catalog and the configuration fabric, it would allow you to design, configure, test and deploy the enterprise applications. Unlike the current approach for configuring servers and infrastructure, the new management platform will employ visual tools to enable you to easily deploy and manage an application from end to end.

With these four major attributes, the perfect future application delivery platform would spell the end to an array of evils, addressing many of the major challenges CIOs face when trying to deploy new business services using today’s manual, labor-intensive, server-by-server deployment approach. This new paradigm would end complex configuration processes, lengthy unit and system testing periods and very specific hardware requirements that extend application deployment times from days or months to years. The major rewards of realizing this vision: millions of dollars in savings, tremendous productivity increases and fewer acrobatics as you lead your company’s IT transformation.