Is Vendor Obfuscation a Strategy?

By Ellen Pearlman  |  Posted 05-18-2005
As a longtime technology editor, I've seen my share of jargon from IT vendors, consultants, researchers and marketers. It never ceases to amaze me that companies pay hefty sums to PR companies to get their message out, but then approve releases that include so much industry jargon it's a wonder anyone reads them, let alone understands what they're reading.

Aside from the fact that many press releases rely heavily on industry gobbledygook, they often use superlatives to claim their new "solution" is a "first" and that their company is the "leader" in its field.

I'll share a couple of recent examples; the names are changed to protect the guilty. Both examples consist of the lead paragraph in the release—the one designed to make you want to read more.

  • "The primary quality that makes quantum cryptography special is the security provided by the use of qubits backed by Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty. Millions of these qubits are generated by the single photon generation sources but a large number of bits are lost along the way, resulting in periodic loss of information."

  • "Alpha Company, a leader in software solutions for unstructured data analysis, today announced the newest version of its Web-based advanced analytics software, Alphabit 2.0.4. New in this version are pre-populated concept banks for improved performance in concept manipulation and analysis workflow, and multi-threaded batch processing for increased throughput and scalability."

    Almost irresistible, aren't they?

    Another industry practice that makes it difficult for customers to make sense of all of the products and services being offered is the habit of many IT vendors and consultants to define their market using their own terminology and acronyms, even when the proliferation of jargon and acronyms makes their own material almost undecipherable.

    That has led to a bevy of phrases that describe similar products, such as corporate performance management (CPM), business performance management (BPM) and enterprise performance management (EPM). Frankly, journalists and CIOs are better served by fewer descriptions of similar products to make the job of comparing products easier.

    In April, we asked CIOs who read CIO Insight what they think of all of this industry jargon, as part of a longer online survey. The result: CIOs do not respond well to all of this obfuscation.

    Ninety-one percent (of 282 respondents) said vendors give different names to products and services that largely do the same thing, and 68 percent said vendor jargon makes it difficult for them to conduct apples-to-apples comparisons of IT products or services.

    Larger companies were most bothered by this practice, with 74 percent saying it makes their job harder. And it's probably not a surprise that IT executives at computer manufacturing companies were the least troubled by this (53 percent).

    Why do so many industry players adopt such language? Could it be that they don't want to make it easy for their customers to make comparisons? Seems like a golden opportunity for vendors who care about their customers to be plain-spoken, and to talk clearly about business benefits in their messaging rather than muddying the waters.

    But maybe clarity isn't what they're after.

    Ellen Pearlman is editor-in-chief of CIO Insight magazine.