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Friday roast: Heh vendors - give up the buzzword bingo

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy October 15, 2015
Buzzword bingo is a reality in technology but it is confusing and undermining vendors' ability to communicate value.

The I Love APIs event gave me an opportunity to sit down with a number of developers keen to better understand the value Apigee brings to their table. One of the main talking points at one lunch and which continued well into the afternoon with an academic and a senior director for auto damage solutions got me thinking.

The main thrust of the conversation centered around the use of buzzwords. The academic was scathing in his assessment of what API management in today's world is about. He saw it as little more than SOA (another of those wonderful three letter acronyms) that was once popular but which faded from view several years ago.

He has a point although I doubt that all customers would agree. Apigee provides easy on boarding and API management for all segments of the broad developer ecosystem. Crucially, Apigee have introduced monetization methods that allow for the novel use of the masses of data being thrown off by applications that reside on the Internet as well as data coming from sensor technologies. That represents capabilities that have been difficult to democratize in the past so in that sense, Apigee represents an advance in the state of the API art. Even if APIs pre-date the modern Internet.

To our academic's point, the technology industry is constantly reinventing itself. You see this for example in the evolution of 'cloud' from what was once hosting, then ASP, then SaaS for many and now cloud pretty much applied to anything that moves. In that context I am with Larry Ellison, co-founder Oracle who famously quipped that technology is like the fashion game. In 2009 he said:

It's like Chanel, last year it was fuchsia, this year it's puce

The problem I see is that along with buzzwords go FUD or Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, together with an ignorance of history that leads to the pretence that what we're seeing is new. During the event, I sat through an excruciating performance from one SI's chief digital officer who was trying to convince the audience that unless they get on to the IoT (Internet of Things) bus, then they'll get disrupted. He then went on to say that sensor data usage in manufacturing is new. Really?

I am pretty sure Jim Shepherd, chief strategist at Plex will have some well chosen words in response to that kind of nonsense. Actually --- he already has. Earlier in the year, we met at Plex Detroit HQ. In talking about so-called 'big data' Shepherd had this to say:

What are you talking about when you talk big data? We've been using sensor data for so many years that for us it is just data. That's all it is.

And as if to emphasize the point, a group of us visited a chocolate maker where Plex monitors the production line.

More prosaically, the senior director said that terms like 'digital business' are meaningless to people like him.

When you're involved in the building of software, the idea that you're building something for a digital business, regardless of location is a given. Why do people feel the necessity to rub it in or pontificate upon it as if it is something new?

It is at this point that I have to bow my head in shame because as media, we are as much a part of the buzzword bingo problem as anyone. The difficulty comes in finding expressions that will resonate with people.

My guess is that we have to be more accurate and contextually aware in the way we describe these things. So for example, I was fascinated to learn about advances in agtech (agricultural technology) where sensor data from farm machinery made by John Deere, which has been available for years, is now being collected to assist in optimizing crop yields. More on that later.

I came away from those conversations with many questions rattling around my head.

  • Exactly how do we encourage vendors to express precision in their descriptions of technology?
  • How do we show them the best ways of communicating in ways that buyers understand without confusion or derision?

It is saying something profound that many of the conversations I had were less about the abilities of a particular software and more about how to understand the buzzwords. That should tell us something important about the way the industry fails to meet customer need.

The folk I was speaking with are either budget holders or budget advisors, the very people we want to reach. If we can't get their attention without resorting to buzzwords then we are failing. That's not acceptable. We have to suck less.

Update: and as if bang on cue, I get this in email:

I tend to view digital transformation holistically as the confluence of SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technologies, cutting through business processes, enabling agile & secure infrastructure, leveraging IoT & connected devises, driven by seamless integration into (and upgrading) of current IT systems and underpinned by actionable insights for sustainable differentiation across customer experience and business efficiency.

You can't make this shit up.

Disclosure: Oracle and Plex are premier partners at time of writing

Image credit: @gapingvoid

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