A traditional view holds that information technologists generate way too much jargon. It irritates business people; a source of friction that impedes progress. As an analyst I have certainly seen that problem many times in the past, but it isn’t troubling me these days. I think we have flipped to the exact opposite problem. Technologists are not creating enough of the new technology-related business and management terminology needed for a productive business conversation to advance more quickly.
There’s no doubt we are in a tech boom period and one that is rivaling the dot com boom of the late 90’s to early 2000s. Consider some of the valuable terms that were added to the management lexicon back then:
- B2C and B2B
- Business model
- Value network
- Open innovation
You have probably used most of those. They allow us to easily and quickly discuss new and better ways of doing business through the application of information technologies.
But today, technological change to business seems to be outrunning our ability to create words to describe it. For example, I can find no generally accepted term for the business model type operated by Uber and AirBnB, despite their signal importance in boardroom discussions about digital disruption. Meanwhile, older terms such as “I T” are in all kinds of trouble. These days it seems IT is constrained to meaning only some combination of older back office computing and supporting services. Many other kinds of information technologies and related capabilities are not considered part of IT. Even when new terms do come along they can be terribly clumsy. The IoT for example – how do we say it out loud to each other? It is so embarrassing, nobody has dared to start saying “eyot” – so instead we have to half swallow it as we quickly spit it out -“internetofhtings“. This kind of language difficulty is making it difficult to discuss important new issues such as the changing nature of industries.
In the business news world, a ‘tech’ company can be a maker and seller of information technologies such as Cisco or IBM but it is also used to describe Orbitz, Uber, Twitter and Grubhub – none of which make and sell technology. On Bloomberg yesterday, I noticed Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP repeating his view that Google and Facebook are media companies, not technology companies. We can’t seem to decide. When, one day, Ford or Volvo make and sell their first autonomous cars will they suddenly be re-designated as tech companies? Maybe. If Apple does decide to make cars we can be fairly sure it wont be re-designated an automotive company. Tesla? Nobody can agree whether it is automotive or tech. The term tech is vague and presumptive anyway. It generally seems to be shorthand for information technology related. There are other kinds of technology in the world, but they don’t get a look in anymore. Sorry, did I just type information technology? – I didn’t mean to sound like an 80s throwback. I should have said digital.
There are some bright spots. I very much like the term “data science”. That’s adding a lot and it seems to be sticking. “Additive manufacturing” is good too ( it’s what manufacturers do with 3D printers). “Gamification” was another useful addition. We certainly could use more words for the new emerging technology related competencies. Steve Prentice and I were discussing the term “blockchain” recently. That is a good example of what we need to see more of – a term that abstracts the generic model from the specific cases so that we can discuss, transplant and reapply the idea in other contexts more easily, without getting confused.
Did you ever wish that you could create just one new term that the whole world picks up and uses? If so, now would be a good time. We all need your help. Give it a go.
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