Bulletin 14 December 2018. Who keeps changing the terminology?

What’s in a name?


TLAs seem to appear out of nowhere, arriving fully formed into mainstream discussion: Value Stream Management is just the latest in a series. To understand the process behind the creation of a new term, here’s what happens, as a semblance of steps:

First, technology evolves, or lurches forward, depending on your point of view. Innovation tends to follow a path of least resistance, in which organisations without so much baggage (often startups) grab hold of a techno-combo to deliver something that either wasn’t feasible before, or would have been, if people had got their act together. 

Second, everyone starts doing whatever the technology enables. So, for example, that cloud computing thing, or in layperson’s terms, “using a virtual machine running on someone else’s hardware.” In a matter of months, the new technology area goes from looking like an exception, to something with potential to be a norm. 

Third, the analysts start to get a whiff of it… Industry analysts are before all else, trend spotters — they spend time talking to people about what businesses and consumers are doing with technology, and so have a good vantage point to see when a theme is becoming a trend. 

…then fourth, they give it a name. What happens next is, in some meeting room in some office block, a bunch of analyst-y types express their fascination about what is going on, and agree to write a report about it. Which needs a snappy title. The name could come from ‘the thing’ itself, or if none exists, the analysts will make one up.

Fifth, the report will look to ‘define a space’. IT industry analysts don’t think in terms of solutions to problems: if the answer is “change the way you do things,” they’re not so interested. But if software or hardware is/can be involved, suddenly things are very interesting as this means you can create a ranking of whoever provides said software. 

Sixth, technology providers orient themselves around the new name. Gandalf (the wise, then the white) knew the power behind a name, and so do IT companies. Vendors cited in the report feather their nests with it, while those missed out rail against pay-to-play industry corruption; and meanwhile, a bunch of others with similar products will claim to also do ‘the thing’. 

Seventh, industry experts spend the next period helping companies with ‘the thing’. Once a bandwagon has been created, the cycle plays out with the larger majority of organisations trying to work out if they need whatever it is being talked about. Consulting firms will tell them they can’t do without it; analysts will say, “well, if you’re going to do it, here’s what to think about” and so on. 

And round we go. From this analyst’s perspective, I am still taken by surprise by the (apparently) sudden appearance of new terms and mechanisms, with most people I come across giving the impression that they knew about it all along (for fear of looking dumb). Generally, then, I go through a wave of panic and inadequacy before realising (a) I could understand what it was about after all, and (b) the implementation challenges were, and remain, the same as ever. Perhaps one day I will find I really have missed something enormous but thus far, thus good. 

Here’s an article for this week. 


Five Questions For… Seong Park at MongoDB

I’m currently spending my time thinking about development and operations processes and roles, hence my increasing focus on Value Stream Management and hence also, this conversation with MongoDB’s VP of Product Marketing, Seong Park, about the relationship between (essentially) a database company and the developer community. 


Cheers and all the best, Jon

Bulletin 14 December 2018. Who keeps changing the terminology?

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