When it comes to technology, debates about whether a particular name suits its category are rampant. Here is a link to one such argument about the term “big data” from Curt Monash, an analyst whom I respect a great deal. This debate rages in the Twittersphere also, as in this comment from Neil Raden, another analyst I respect, suggesting that “big data is a marketing term … imprecise by design.” Another term I’ve encountered resistance to recently is “predictive analytics.” See: (“Revolution Analytics Hosts Contest on Business Predicting the Future“).
Having spent a large portion of my career developing and marketing software products, I am probably biased, but I see value in broad, easily understood – even if imprecise – terms. Such terms are inclusive rather than exclusive, and that allows more vendors to participate in the markets, prompting more competition, more debate and ultimately better products and more variety of products. Broad terms such as “big data” and “predictive analytics” are also easily understood, so potential buyers can get an immediate idea of how such categories might fit in their organization. The result is a bigger market for products, which in turn leads to more investment in the category.
On the other hand, broad terms do create some confusion for buyers. Worse, some vendors corrupt the meanings of these terms, and too many jump on the bandwagon. So buyers have to do some homework, research the subject and understand what vendors have to offer. Yes, our business as analysts benefits from some of this confusion because we are hired to help with research and education, but organizations making a large technology purchase should be doing this anyway.
The alternative – very precise and exclusive terms – might eliminate one type of confusion but would add another: an even greater proliferation of technology categories. A more precise approach would place a burden on buyers. In such a world, they would need to know which specific types of solutions to consider early in the buying cycle, and they might not find other categories that provide similar capabilities. The result would be lower overall adoption rates, smaller markets and less investment to help solve business problems with those technologies.
So I like broader terms as the lesser evil. Besides, the market has spoken. While specific terms may be promoted by certain vendors or analysts, traction comes from widespread adoption. So go ahead, debate what these widely adopted terms mean. It will create a better understanding for all. Vendors, find a way to make your products relevant to a particular category. Venture capitalists, invest in a new startup that extends or alters or even replaces a category. In the end, we’ll all have to do a little work, but we’ll have wider selection of better products as a result.