The Top 10 Most Hated Technology Buzzwords for 2019… And What They Really Mean

January 15th, 2019

One of the most unpleasant aspects of choosing software for your business can be translating vendor marketing messaging. Software marketers have a knack for using fluffy language to describe their products… Language that can make it really difficult to even understand what the product does!

In fact, according to a TrustRadius survey, 3 out of 4 software buyers describe vendor language as either “meaningless jargon” or “lots of fluff”. The problems buyers see with vendor marketing language range from overuse of words with no factual info (ie industry standard, leading or best in class), to inflated promises, to complete misuse of technical terms.

As one buyer said, “‘It does some great stuff by magic,’ would summarize most marketing.” Ouch!

You keep using that word
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In the same survey, we asked buyers to name the buzzword they find most meaningless, or that really gets their goat. So… Here are the top 10 buzzwords software buyers like you hate the most (and what the terms actually mean).

Buzzword #1: Cloud

Whether it’s “cloud-based,” “in the cloud,” or “cloud native,” it can be confusing what’s actually meant by these terms. The standard sleight of hand performed by software vendors is to refer to on-premise software that is simply hosted by the vendor as “cloud” software. However, hosting software on a server and delivering it over the Internet is not the same as true multi-tenant cloud software.

In general, buyers criticize the lack of precision behind the term, as well as the fact that it’s presented as an extreme differentiator, when in fact, it’s rather common.

Cloud-based. So many things are online that it seems most everything is “Cloud-based”. It might be more meaningful to specify when something is NOT cloud-based.”

“Cloud: it truly means someone else’s computer, not a magic tool that answers all needs”

“cloud – it is just servers!! Be honest about what you are offering!”

Buzzword #2: Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is a red hot term that refers to connecting devices from the mundane to the arcane to the Internet. It means connecting cellphones, coffee makers, washing machines, toasters, wearables to the Internet, but also machine parts in an airplane jet engine or the drill of an oil rig. The great promise of the connected sensors is that by having much more data about almost anything, we are better able to see things like potential airplane engine failure, or oil platform catastrophe before they happen.

The term has been massively hyped and overused over the last few years in ways that do not promote an understanding of the many wonders this technology promises to bring to life.

The Internet of Things really has more to do with the data than the things. While the sheer range of connected devices is mind-boggling, understanding the data produced by these devices is the real challenge. Before the promise of connected devices is realized, we need to solve the data analysis problem.

Buzzword #3: Disruptive

In the context of technology, disruption has become an overused and often misused term applied to any hot new app or product that’s taken off. But the term has a concrete definition: it’s the process by which a new or little-known product displaces a market leader by starting at the bottom of the market and providing a low-cost alternative for customers who were previously priced out of the market. Netflix, Wikipedia, and Skype are examples of disruption.  Very few products are truly disruptive. Additionally, a company can be extremely successful without being disruptive.

Here’s an example of a meaningful use of disruption:

“Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry by initially providing a low-cost service to individuals who weren’t target clients for hotels, and then eventually expanding the quality of service to attract higher-end customers.”

And here’s a pretty meaningless one:

“Our disruptive social media monitoring platform is intuitive to use, and provides more granular data than competitive products.”

Buzzword #4: Blockchain

Blockchain emerged as the cryptographically enhanced digital ledger that underpins Bitcoin and most cryptocurrencies. Blockchains allow different parties that do not trust each other to share information without requiring a central administrator. Blockchain is just a data structure. It can be used to convey information across the Internet but doesn’t enable anything in and of itself.

The fact that it is just a data structure does not prevent people from making wild and meaningless claims, however. Software vendors often tout blockchain features as a kind of magical capability in the hopes that people might think they need it, even if they have no idea why.

Buzzword #5: Digital transformation

Digital transformation is the application of digital technologies to fundamentally impact all aspects of business. This is a bit vague, but it does point to something real. The vagueness of the term means that many organizations begin digital transformation without a clear idea of what they are trying to achieve.

The biggest misunderstanding is that it’s all about acquiring more technology. While new technology might be part of it, the fundamental idea is to use technology not just to replicate an existing service in a digital form, but rather to transform that service into something significantly better for customers.

For example, JetBlue has used digital technology to eliminate friction points like passenger check-ins and to eliminate or streamline the check-in process. Another transformation example is Porsche using technology to better understand and serve their customers. At Porsche, all customer data is pulled into a central CRM data center and allocated to a unique ID. Once this has been done, every customer interaction at every touch point is documented. This builds a comprehensive picture of every customer. The important thing in these examples is the focus on customers and not on technology.

When software vendors use the term, it can feel like a way of selling snazzy new software, but divorced from any real-world customer-focused objective.

Here’s an example of an appropriate use of digital transformation:

“Digital transformation is a long-term, strategic project to re-think how we serve customers that should be led by the CEO.”

And here’s a relatively meaningless use of the term:

“Our product helps companies achieve digital transformation with open, purpose-built software that delivers outcomes that matter.”

Buzzword #6: Agile

Agile is a term that originates in software development and project management. It refers to a very specific way of getting work done which is in contrast to the waterfall method.

In a nutshell, agile methodologies focus on rapid iterative and incremental design with a dedicated, self-organizing, multi-disciplinary team. The team uses a time-boxed period of intense effort called a “sprint” with well-defined tasks. The team is guided by a real customer or customer representatives to make sure that what is being built meets customer needs.

The problem with the term “Agile” is that it is frequently used metaphorically in a business context to mean everything and nothing.

Here’s an example of a precise use of agile:

“We abandoned waterfall development for agile a few years ago, and, as a direct result, we are building much better software, much more efficiently.”

And here’s a rather imprecise use of the term:

“We are a lean and very agile shop here, so we need a real self-starter.”

Buzzword #7: AI

Artificial Intelligence or AI is perhaps one of the jargon-iest terms in the jargon lexicon. The term has become so ubiquitous that it now means very little. As is often the case though, it does denote something very real.

AI has been around since the 1950s and is really a superset of machine learning and deep learning. The essence of AI is developing computer systems that can perform tasks that are normally thought to require human intelligence. The key thing to remember is that AI-enabled products can learn on their own.

Here’s an example of a meaningful use of AI:

“Our product is AI-enabled and incorporates machine learning algorithms that help it to learn and improve over time.”

And here’s a relatively meaningless use of the term:

“This AI-driven product has rules for parsing large quantities of data. These rules can be programmed to solve many different kinds of data problems.”

Buzzword #8: Big data

Big data may be a term whose time has come and gone. A cynic might argue that the rapid and broad adoption of the term big data was fueled by new technology, particularly the fast rise of open source technologies such as Hadoop and the various NoSQL databases which provide new ways of storing and manipulating data both structured and unstructured data. There is much more talk today about the business value that can be extracted from data than there is about its sheer volume.

Here’s an example of a meaningful use of big data:

“Big data provides great opportunity, but without context and analytics it is useless.”

And here’s a relatively meaningless use of the term:

“The more data we can collect, the more successful we will be. Big data is the key to growth.”

Buzzword #9: Analytics

Analytics is a particularly vexing term. Every software product on the planet now comes with built-in “analytics”. But what does this mean really? The problem is that the term is to be so broad as to be almost meaningless. Part of the issue is one of fashion.

Ten years ago, vendors talked happily about reporting and business intelligence. But these terms have ceded ground in recent years to business analytics, or just analytics. The term analytics can mean many things, but using it to refer to simple summary reports (detailing the number of emails sent, etc.) seems a stretch. Generally, it should refer to a technical capability to surface insights or meaning, rather than a summary of data.

Here’s an appropriate use of analytics:

“Our CRM has integrated analytics that can provide real-time customer insights to reduce churn.

And here’s a pretty meaningless use of the term:

“Our CRM has integrated analytics that can tell you the number of opportunities in the sales pipeline and other summary metrics.”

Buzzword #10: Industry leading

This one is particularly meaningless. These two buyers said it best:

Has anyone ever said they are “industry following”?”

“State of the art technology, market leader – great, as opposed to all other technology products whose main selling point is that they’re mediocre”

Other completely meaningless words buyers complained about include: award-winning, cutting edge, state-of-the-art, best-in-class, world-class, and world’s #1. Hopefully, those words fall out of the 2019 lexicon!

Are there any technology buzzwords that get *your* goat? We’d love to hear from you!