Jailing the jargon

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Jailing the Jargon: Why tech companies need to put the technical terminology behind bars

As the developed world has become comfortably ensconced in a new, digital age, the tech sector has been one of the inevitable big winners. The internet has become a canvas upon which tech companies have rendered all kinds of innovations and they have been hungrily adopted by organisations of every flavour.

With the tech sector now occupying an enviable position in the great hierarchy of industry, it might seem an odd target for critique. The tech sector though, despite its stratospheric ascent, is still not fully realising its potential and a key reason might be as simple as the language they persist in using.

A memorable stick

To be fair to the vast majority of tech companies, they do work hard to make the transition to more advanced infrastructures and solutions as painless as possible for their customers. This though, is not where the criticism is levelled. The criticism begins right at the starting point of the customer journey.

Technological innovations are named by their creators. Unfortunately, they are also named not with the general consumer in mind, but other techy types. So, when Toshiba developed flash memory in 1980 it was widely referred to as EEPROM, which stood for “electrically erasable programmable read-only memory”. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Nor does it tell the layperson much about how it can be used. As various expressions of the technology progressed over time, certain monikers became widespread, perhaps the most common of all; a ‘memory stick’.

Sony pounced on this term in 1998 when they launched their own version of removable flash drives, literally calling their product line ‘Memory Stick’. It was a smart move because even those as yet unfamiliar with the technology could make a pretty accurate guess what it was. It was memory. On a stick. A useful tool they understood and they bought them in abundance.

What on earth is “VoIP”?

Remarkably, despite the obvious benefits to be had from naming a product something simple, you know, so people can actually figure out what it is, technical monikers are as abundant as ever. 

Take VoIP as an example. As burgeoning as its popularity is as an alternative to traditional telephony, if you were to approach a large group of business leaders and say, “Hey, you should switch your phones to VoIP,” plenty would stare blankly back at you. And it’s not because of that awful shirt you insist on wearing, it’s because they have no idea what you’re talking about.

Even with the acronym unpacked, ‘Voice over Internet Protocol’, it’s not obvious what it refers to. This is immensely irritating on two fronts. Firstly, all VoIP is, is telephone calls carried over the internet instead of traditional copper wires. That’s literally all it is. Internet telephony. So why tolerate any confusion and just call it that from the start? Your guess is as good as anybody’s. 

The second cause for irritation is that internet telephony, sorry, “VoIP” is a truly brilliant innovation. Not only are VoIP calls now as reliable as traditional telephony, they’re high resolution, packed with additional features, and to top it off, calls are drastically cheaper regardless of where they’re being made to and from. It’s a product almost every business could benefit from yet many don’t even know about it as an alternative because they’ve only ever heard it referred to as VoIP. And they don’t know what VoIP is. 

VoIP is the product whose name we’ve hauled over the coals here, but it’s far from the only deserving one. The websites of almost all tech companies proudly boast their ability to provide SIP Trunking, SD-WAN, DIA, FTTC, HSCN, DDoS Protection, CRMs, Hybrid Cloud…as if the average business owner who’s just trying to get deliveries out on time and keep her staff happy knows what any of this is.

Is improving performance in the tech sector really as simple as dropping the jargon?

That would be a bold claim and it would be a brave individual who stakes their reputation on it. It is though, a compelling idea. Of the examples used in the paragraph above, all present different and powerful benefits to business and yet, even with the acronyms unpacked, it’s not clear how they do this. 

Think about other pieces of tech that can be found in the average office. A printer, a photocopier, email, an interactive white board. We know what these things are because they’ve been around forever and we’ve all seen and used them, but we also know because even without ever having heard of a printer before, you could make a pretty accurate guess as to what it does. How many people could say the same about SD-WAN?

If it’s a transition that’s going to happen, it’s going to require tech companies to make a philosophical shift. Generally speaking, they enjoy the status their expert knowledge gives them, and so they should. It is hard earnt. However, it’s time to question what this plethora of jargon is designed for. Is it for the customer? Or is to help maintain that elevated position that comes with being a tech specialist?

The margin between layperson and expert might be decreased by simplifying the terminology attached to tech products and services, but what it will do to the margin of profit might just be worth the step down.