IT Needs New Terminology

Opinion: Terms such as disaster recovery, groupware, search engines and digital entertainment have taken on new meanings.

The vocabulary of the tech industry—covering such concepts as disaster recovery, groupware, search engines and digital entertainment—is due for a change. The reasons for the change include a range of economic, social and environmental factors, but the need to find words and phrases that really fit the task at hand is upon us.

Disaster recovery in technology was once measured in seconds or minutes. If the power failed or surged, data was expected to be recovered and available without a noticeable interruption. With the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the concept of disaster recovery took on a time frame of days and weeks as big financial and insurance institutions made sure (and were mandated) that their recovery systems could resume operations after an attack.

The disaster recovery process after Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flooding lengthen the time frame and widen the scope of businesses involved and computing requirements. Disaster recovery (or business continuity, as it is often called) hardly covers the concept of when you, your home, your business and your employees are evacuated, dispersed and uncertain when—or if—you will be able to resume operations in your old location. While large business operations can devise plans for remote data centers, those operations are often out of reach for small and midsize businesses.

Disaster recovery and business continuity will have to become part of a businesss technology operations rather than distinct projects that may or may not be funded in any given year. Building a business information infrastructure that is as dispersed and as resilient as the Internet will take a new approach and terminology that has not yet been developed.

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Groupware also needs to be rethought—and renamed. Groupware is too often a bucket where you throw in communication technologies such as e-mail, scheduling, instant messaging and, more recently, voice. Vendors like to claim that as you throw more stuff in the bucket or make the bucket bigger, your business will become more productive. This makes no sense.

What makes sense is adding elements to the group that were never considered part of a businesss computing infrastructure. Energy and fuel usage and expenditures, as well as security services, are much higher on the business-needs list than the ability to include IM with e-mail. The ability to IM your employees is far less important than knowing what an additional 5 cents (and much more lately) in fuel costs will mean to your companys bottom line. Yet those essential business statistics are not part of the groupware lexicon. Advice to vendors: If you want to sell more groupware, make sure you include the information your customers really need.

Search engines are another area where the name is a bit of a misnomer. Thinking of Google as essentially a search engine is essentially wrong. Google is a media company that relies on the chaos of the Internet to build revenues by matching searches with advertiser pitches.

When you are writing an e-mail, you are not searching for anything, but Google will be happy to place an ad that relates to the content of your e-mail near the related text. The same will happen with IM and VOIP (voice over IP). When Microsoft vows to beat Google in search, it is missing the point. When Google says it will never use all the information it is collecting in a harmful manner, Internet users are putting a lot of faith in the current and future management of the company. Google is much more than a highly efficient search engine operation, and users would do well to think of the company in a much larger context.

Digital entertainment goes beyond being a misnomer into the realm of oxymoron. What is entertaining about trying to get a lot of flaky, incompatible products to work together? Why do I want to see music videos in every room when I cant stand to see the video in even one room? Why do I want more media choices on bigger displays playing louder sounds when the current offerings are already bigger and louder than anyone needs? Thats entertainment? I dont think so.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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