Bulletin 1 June 2018 – A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

“I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass.”

Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 5: “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm”

The irony of working in an industry which is all about naming things (perhaps that should be on the business card: “Head of Naming Things”), is that often the same old stuff gets a name which makes it look and feel different to the time before. 

The lifecycle of a newly-named area goes something like the following:

  • Someone, somewhere coins a term for something. It could be new, old, or simply evolved
  • ‘The market’ (that is to say, a set of like-minded technology vendors, consulting firms and so on) picks up on the term and uses it in their literature
  • As this continues, they do what marketers are good at, which is to differentiate. “Unlike other suppliers of <term>, we…”
  • In parallel, a broader range of analysts, journalists and relationship brokers look to incorporate the term in their own understanding and exploration of the topic it represents. 

Yes, there’s some back and forth between groups on this. Meanwhile I, no doubt like many others involved in tech, follow a staged approach towards understanding what is going on. 

First, I start to hear the term used repeatedly, and think, wow, am I so thick that I was unaware of an entire area of IT? I’m not kidding — most recently, it was use of ‘shift-left’ as a testing best practice. 

Second, I buy into the idea that, yes, it really does mean something and I need to know all about it. It may start to feel vaguely familiar at this point, but I’m not taking any chances

Third, as its provenance emerges, I recognise its derivative nature for what it is, re-tying the strands of understanding I had thought were starting to unravel. Peace is restored. 

Of course, it could be the case that an entirely new field has emerged. This does happen: the mobile phone doesn’t have much of a precedent, for example; virtualisation is also noteworthy. 

More often than not however, new developments sit somewhere along a line from “a clever re-naming due to changing circumstances” up to “the same old stuff, re-packaged because we were bored of the old name.”

IoT for example, sits somewhere towards the left hand end. Sensor-based remote management and control may not be new, but the costs have fallen to such an extent that you can put sensors literally anywhere. 

I’m racking my brains for blatant examples of the right hand end of the scale (it’s a Friday afternoon), but the constant refresh of data management comes close… from data warehouses, through big data and now into data lakes. 

Sometimes the name really does look like something new, but then you give it a prod and you realise its implications are as old as business itself.

Take Robotic Process Automation, for example. It’s got it all —a three letter acronym (RPA) which has a buzzy term in it, a direct hook into both software products and consulting services. But behind the hype are business-oriented rules engines and other repackaging. 

And don’t even start me off on digital transformation. Though I agree — “business model and process re-engineering to integrate and incorporate use of analytical insight from internal and external data sources” isn’t quite as snappy as a title. 

The irony is that, in all the hubbub around re-invention, we lose track of the innovation. Which goes some way to explaining why the industry can sometimes appear to move incredibly fast, at the same time as being laboriously slow. 

Perhaps we need a term for that. Here’s a couple of articles for the (short) week. 

 

5 questions for Shawn Rogers of Tibco – from data to insight

As I write in this article, my recent chat with Shawn Rogers was delightfully devoid of jargon. Equally interesting was how the company is having to grow into more of a consultative role, as the nature of the problems it can solve for its customers becomes more complex. I see this as further evidence of a move towards a wave of distribution, following the centralising influence of public cloud. 

 

From the archive: A Technological Map of the Future

You know how it is, you sit in a coffee shop and start doodling… and before you know it you have put everything you understand onto a single sheet of paper. I’m not sure things are that different today, which is good on the one hand, but at the same time, illustrates how far we have to go. 

 

Highly curricular: How Not to be an Analyst

As previously mentioned, I presented on this topic to the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations last week — it was pretty useful to help me get my thoughts in order. I have written up my notes as a blog, the five rules are:

1. Analyse, don’t preach (the clue is in the name)

2. Don’t get distracted by influence

3. Beware of silo-ed thinking

4. There’s no ‘I’ in analyst

5. Avoid the basic gotchas

Oh and of course, avoid drinking wine before replying to job ads! 

 

Thanks for reading and until next time, Jon

Bulletin 1 June 2018 – A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

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