Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Saturday, May 30, 2020
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Hyped on the Hype Cycle: Take These Steps Before Adopting Emerging Tech 

Hype happens like a virus: We’re suddenly jammed into our seats and told to watch a new movie. Then afterward — often as soon as the lights go up — we become ourselves again and the virus is gone. Most of the time, hype is harmless: We’ve wasted time and a few dollars, but we’ll recover soon.

But hype can be expensive, too. It can come upon us unnoticed: Someone sees a product demo at a trade show and suddenly they catch the virus. They’ve decided this new, emerging tech will finally iron out all the kinks in customer service management. The C-suite is now demanding you adopt an entirely new CRM system.

Certainly, technologies are tools, but tools don’t make us innovators just because we use them. We tend to forget that fact when we rationalize the hype around a certain solution or advancement. Instead, we often point to companies failing to innovate and say this technology is a must-have to avoid a similar fate.

Of course, we also forget the extensive list of bad upgrades and stalled emerging technologies. We disregard the facts, such as the painful one uncovered by Bain & Company: Only 5 percent of companies involved in digital transformation say they’ve achieved or exceeded expectations.

Killing the Hype Contagion

Tech hype is everywhere. Gartner famously tracks it with the Gartner Hype Cycle. But hype can be something more: a contagion with the potential to wreck your business. As a tech pro, you can talk your coworkers off the hype ledge. But if a hype-infected person runs the business, will they take your head if you say no?

Try these six tips to inoculate your business.

  1. Run tech through a hype detector

If the C-suite is considering a technology everyone is talking about but no one has used, get your guard up. If a department head is excited by the tech, it’s fine to give the technology a fair hearing. But if anyone is asking you to lay down any cash, it may be better to suggest your competitors burn through their budgets chasing after a possible, or likely, mirage.

  1. Look at the numbers

If a product upgrade has been released but the metrics are vague it’s probably hyped. Look out for blanket statements, such as “everything will run better” – it probably won’t.

When the sales rep at the tradeshow says productivity can be improved by 10 percent, ask how. How did this number come about? What was the actual outcome for real-world users? If the vendor says its new system is more reliable than before, again, ask how. And of course, ask why your current tech isn’t reliable.

  1. Test it

Sascha Giese of SolarWinds

Know that when you get the much-needed numbers, they may not apply to you. Ask for a small sample test drive. Do your proper evaluation and research. Don’t worry about appearing to be cautious — jobs are on the line.

Of course, everything in tech requires time for customization — kinks and hiccups are fine and normal. However, when those kinks don’t seem to go away and the ironing-out requires too much time — start questioning whether the product has any real value and abandon the test run.

Are you spending more time trying to get stuff running than you did before? And if this product will affect the customer negatively, consider your options even more carefully.

  1. Ask if you really need a Ferrari

Do you need a sleek bit of technology? Or are you asking for the equivalent of a Ferrari to go to the grocery store? Sometimes the tech isn’t a good fit for your use case. Think in terms of the desired business outcome.

  1. Consider the timing

All tech eventually becomes legacy. For example, support for Windows 7 stops this coming January.

Even if the product passes all of the tests above, your company may be distracted by other service upheavals. Why invite another problem if the timing isn’t right?

  1. Have the difficult conversation

Telling a C-level type their understanding of a particular technology is incorrect — or even just inopportune for the IT department — may be the most challenging part of your job. But know this: Speaking in highly technical terms could make the conversation even worse.

It’s not likely the boss will care about your Level 5 tech jargon. Instead, speak their language of risk, profit, and loss. For example, produce numbers on how much damage could result while you work out the kinks in the new system. Consider Amazon: if their page load time slows down by one second, they would potentially lose $1.6 billion in sales a year.

Learn to be fluent in the language of business. Don’t make others learn your tech language.  It’s true you could end up looking like a spoilsport, but killing a contagion isn’t supposed to be fun. The budget and many jobs are on the line. Question – and doubt – the hype.

Sascha Giese is head geek at IT consultancy SolarWinds.

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