The jargon of the tech industry is legendary. Confusion arises when one uses terms incorrectly or inflationary. […]
Each profession has its own collection of abbreviations, acronyms and keywords that serve as abbreviations for techniques, trends and tools. This is no different in IT. But unlike other disciplines, the language of IT tends to spill over into the corporate culture and society itself. In advertising, cloud computing and data-driven decision-making are touted, people praise their latest apps, compare the user experience and talk about downloads or implementations.
And let’s be honest: when was the last time someone (outside the financial world) talked about amortization or asset allocation?
But even if people prefer to talk about technology, they don’t always use the right terminology. Or they adopt phrases. Or overuse them. Often to the point where they are confusing or irritating and have lost their true meaning. Against this background, we interviewed a number of tech executives to find out about misused keywords from IT.
The digital transformation clearly tops the list of misused IT buzzwords. This should come as no surprise to anyone in the IT industry – or in the business world in general – as almost every change (big or small) is now described as transformative. “This term is now heavily overused and seems to be used for the implementation of all digital functions,” criticizes Ryan Smith, CIO of Intermountain Healthcare.
His demand: “The term should actually be used for the convergence of digital technologies – for example of mobile devices, cloud, data and other devices – in order to fundamentally change a traditional business process that either connects digital and physical points of contact with each other or offers a purely digital alternative to a traditional process.“ In addition, a true digital transformation usually requires the effective use of leadership, digital technologies and operational change management.
The term “strategic” also deserves a place on this list, according to George Westerman, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and CIO Award co-chair of the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. In his view, people mistakenly think that they are taking a strategic approach simply because they have a business goal, are working towards a specific goal, or – in the case of the CIO – are subordinate to the CEO. “We all want to be strategic, but if you really take a strategic approach, you know where you want to go and have a plan to get there, even if you make some changes along the way,” Westerman adds.
Today’s people not only want to proceed strategically, they also like to consider themselves agile. However, confusion can arise in the office when employees and especially IT teams talk about agility. Do you mean that you are adaptable? Or are you talking about the development of software according to the agile methodology? Jim A. Jorstad, interim CIO at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, says he has heard the term “agile” applied to a number of concepts.
Jorstad advocates that companies and IT departments adhere more closely to the development methodology when using the keyword. “It’s not just about flexibility and adaptability or quick changes. Agile is much more specific than that,” he says. “It’s a work methodology, and I don’t think most people really know what it means.“
CIOs are faced with a long list of requests everywhere, which forces them to prioritize the most important projects. But the idea that you can or should manage the requirements of stakeholders doesn’t really meet the reality – and has earned the term a place on this list. “There are many different stakeholders with many different needs that seem to change on a weekly basis. This constant change increases the demands on the IT department. However, the idea that the IT department can control demand is wrong. The IT department can only control its capacities,“ argues Susan Snedaker, CIO at El Rio Health and member of the ISACA Emerging Trends Working Group.
The term bandwidth is also given a voice here, as it is often misused. True, the word has a technical meaning, but meanwhile it is mistakenly used as a unit for the available time. “It’s about speed and capacity, not about your own available time,” Jorstad complains. “Bandwidth is a word that distracts. So just say what you mean: ‘I don’t have time to work on this.’“
Several CIOs called these terms unworder and pointed out that, firstly, any software contains code (even if users can program a little without actually having to program), and secondly, the provision of enterprise software still requires IT work. “This is one of the worst keywords I see used and abused. I always get annoyed when I read on a solution provider’s website that ‘no IT is required’,” Snedaker says.
There is more than one language problem, she says. “The ‘no IT required’ ad misleads businesses and end users and creates a potentially dangerous path to shadow IT,” explains Snedaker. “Even if a provider’s solution does not require a large amount of IT involvement, a certain amount of IT work is always required – from evaluating the security of the solution, especially in regulated industries, to ensuring its proper provision to users, as well as from ensuring the security of corporate data to ensuring the return of data.“
And she adds: “The IT department should always sit at the table as a partner when it comes to enabling the IT solutions approved by the company management for use in the company.“
Maybe people have put too much faith in the quasi-science of the “Terminator” movies, or the term confuses them, but many tech executives refer to artificial intelligence and some related terms as the most misunderstood buzzwords. “The field of machine learning is a good source for the currently incorrectly used buzzwords. This applies above all to the overestimation of the predictive power of trained models. Even thoroughly trained models rarely give absolute answers, but only statistically probable ones, ” says Tammy Bilitzky, CIO of the Data Conversion Laboratory.