Bulletin 26 October 2018. The world beyond the bandwagon

It’s a human truth that we need touchstones, things for people to rally around. The tech industry is no exception, indeed, it could be argued that industry analysts have ‘touchstone lifecycle management’ baked into their business models. Gartner presents its hype cycle like something that it observes, but in reality the company’s magic quadrants (and Forrester’s waves, and so on) are a significant factor in characterising, therefore making acceptable and confirming the existence of, new technology areas. 

Once this has been done, once the bandwagon comes shimmering into life through sheer force of rhetoric, everyone and their dog will jump on board. It doesn’t really matter whether the theme, trend or capability is absolutely right: those vendors whose products fit its definitions will crow, and others will claim a level of differentiation (cf Geoffrey Moore. “Unlike other vendors of <insert technology here>, the Acme solution enables…”). 

Meanwhile, analyst firms large and small then have something to advise upon. “It’s not as simple as that” offers a reasonable starting point for a lucrative career in explaining what the heck the industry is on about this time. And PR companies and journalists have a new, interesting topic of discussion to replace the stale bandwagons of yesterday, a new new thing to supersede all those old new things. It is what it is. 

As they are embraced and enhanced, some touchstones gain an almost transcendent state. Best practices and training courses emerge, buzzwords take form and are adopted, people become experts in the field. But wait. This isn’t taking place from a standing start, prior to which these were just fields. For something to become the next big thing, it needs to have already achieved some kind of critical mass. 

Sometimes a vendor will attempt to ‘create a space’ but this takes time and money, and success is not guaranteed. More likely is that sufficient organisations have already adopted a version of the capability under discussion, and find themselves suddenly thrust into a technology leadership position. To take a specific example, we saw it when all those users of network event management systems discovered they had been doing something called IT Service Management… which then became Business Service Management. 

It can be a little befuddling, to find yourself leaders in the field when last week you were just getting on with the job. Even more so when all those home-grown systems, practices and processes, which worked as far as they did, become not quite as good as the brand new gold standard. 

For example, if organisations developing software find their methods misaligned, in name or deed, with the ‘standards’ imposed by the (say) Agile Industrial Complex” (hat-tip: Martin Fowler), they can hit a challenge. I remember working on a report years ago, which drew the scorn of at least one industry luminary for suggesting any way could exist other than the recommended way (even though our research showed otherwise). My favourite comment (I paraphrase) was, “Who even is this guy? He doesn’t come to any of our forums!”

The bottom line is, we are working in an infinitely complex and constantly changing industry. No absolutes exist, but every now and then we do arrive at definitions we can all agree upon, even for a short while. We should embrace these for what they are, not as a final answer but a moment of respite, of calm in the tumult, of shared direction and navigation. It’s everyone’s job to recognise the role of such constructs as a means to ease, not add to the pain. 

Speaking of bandwagons, here’s a section of Smart Shift for this week. 

Smart Shift: Every silver lining has a cloud

It’s all about the cloud, right? This section of the “A Sixty-Year Overnight Success” chapter covers the evolution of virtualisation, from 1957 to the kinds of  dynamic, massively scalable data centres we see today. The strange thing about computing is that it’s all imaginary, virtual, whatever you want to call it. 

That’s all for this week! See you soon. 


Also published on Medium.

Bulletin 26 October 2018. The world beyond the bandwagon

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