15 Frequently Misunderstood And Misused Tech Buzzwords

In their reading and networking opportunities, non-tech leaders today may come across a technological term that seems to be in the news all of the time—a.k.a. a tech buzzword. Often, a leader will then get the notion that their organization needs to “add it” or “do something with it,” even […]

In their reading and networking opportunities, non-tech leaders today may come across a technological term that seems to be in the news all of the time—a.k.a. a tech buzzword. Often, a leader will then get the notion that their organization needs to “add it” or “do something with it,” even when they don’t truly understand what “it” is.

Unfortunately, the more a technological term is used, the easier it is for an incorrect definition or a misunderstanding of it to spread. Below, a panel of Forbes Technology Council members explore 15 common tech buzzwords that are frequently misused and misunderstood by the non-tech-savvy, and what these terms actually mean.

1. ‘Digital’

The term “digital” is tricky. Everyone has either started their digital journey or is about to start it, and understandably so—it is a critical step in preparing for the future. Part of the challenge is that the word “digital” means something different to everyone, and its definition is actually quite personal to each company. The first step for any company should be to agree on a common definition. – Samantha Williams, Sonoco

2. ‘SaaS Security’

Everyone is looking for “SaaS security,” which encompasses so many things. Most people think about securing the SaaS apps they already use, which is important. What’s often overlooked is finding and securing the apps being used that your IT/security teams don’t know about, as those are your biggest blind spots. Most companies have secured only a small percentage of the apps being used, which is a startling statistic. – Lior Yaari, Grip Security

3. ‘The Cloud’

“The cloud” is a very misunderstood term and is used a lot. “We’re going to move to the cloud—and it’s going to save our business!” Well, the truth is, the cloud is nothing more than a bunch of computers owned by someone else, and you rent time on these computers. It can save your business a ton of money across all industries, from media to accounting to manufacturing, and more. – Scott Murray, Telestream

4. ‘Disruption’

“Disruption” is a common tech word that is overused by people in the industry and outside of it. Disrupting means to radically change, and eventually displace, current or old systems, technologies or processes. Sometimes, lasting changes come through strategic, incremental steps versus one massive change. And other times, you create a whole new category that doesn’t have to disrupt anything. – Elia Wallen, Hotel Engine

5. ‘Scalability’

Scalability tends to be a buzzword, but organizations forget that business and technology are different. Scalability in business usually means that you also have to scale your tech. Otherwise, the business can scale but will slow, as tech can no longer support it. You can use marketing (and budgets) for boosting business, but sooner or later, scalability means changing the architecture underneath. – Agur Jõgi, Pipedrive


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6. ‘Artificial Intelligence’

“Artificial intelligence” is a term frequently used in the tech world lately, yet many people don’t know exactly what it means. AI is one of today’s pervasive and frustrating buzzwords—in actual fact, it is the term used to describe intelligent software that is gradually improving from training data and a process that facilitates a computer’s learning and making decisions like a human. – Margarita Simonova, ILoveMyQA

7. ‘Community’

Community” is now the top initiative for startups and large enterprises alike. It’s taken the place of “virality” when social apps were king. Much like building a news feed doesn’t replicate Facebook’s virality, inviting all your users to your Slack does not replicate a sense of community. Community, when done right, is a part of your product experience and makes your users more successful. – Jason Gong, Firezone

8. ‘API Strategy’

“API strategy” is a hot topic. While you should build your competitive edge with APIs, “boiling the ocean” and solving for all possible technical scenarios is a black hole of paralysis. Your strategy needs to be flexible, customer-centric and able to evolve with your tech. Apply a design-first strategy aligned with business needs, designing APIs for new capabilities and reevaluating the big picture. – Jason Harmon, Stoplight

9. ‘Agile’ And ‘Agility’

Two words that I see overused are “agile” and “agility.” These terms are used interchangeably when they have different meanings. Agility refers to a particular mindset of a group and the ability to move, while agile is a way of working. Being agile in the tech world means working in a way that allows teams to engage and bring disciplines together seamlessly. Not all things in technology can be agile. – Velia Carboni, VF Corporation

10. ‘Analytics’

“Analytics” is a frequently heard word that is overused and sometimes misunderstood. By definition, analytics is the science of analyzing data sets to find trends, answer questions and draw conclusions. Based on the analytics maturity of an organization, it is implemented differently across different organizations. There are four major types of analytics: descriptive, inquisitive, predictive and prescriptive. – Deviprasad Thrivikraman Pillai, Techvantage Analytics

11. ‘Natural Language Processing’

Common tech buzzword: natural language processing. Often, people think that NLP is just related to how machines can process and analyze large bodies of text, but in actuality, it also applies to the analysis of spoken words. We need to make listening a standard. – Fabio Gratton, inVibe

12. ‘Automation’

When people hear “automation,” many think that machines are going to take over jobs and run entire processes. The reality? Rarely can automation fully take over an end-to-end process. Humans must be a part of the process to use judgment, collaborate with others and make decisions. Automation helps accomplish tasks more quickly and consistently, but it’s unlikely to replace human judgment and context. – Tina Huang, Transposit

13. ‘Web3’

One buzzword and phrase we see is “Web3” being cast as “the future of the internet.” Many organizations think they need to attach themselves to the future, but this often causes businesses to lose sight of the core value they’re trying to create. Leadership will benefit from identifying how their businesses are creating new value, and not just selling any technology as the “panacea to all of our problems.” – Arjun Bhatnagar, Cloaked

14. ‘Blockchain’

When non-tech people talk about blockchain, they always correlate this with Bitcoin and/or other cryptocurrencies. That’s not wrong, obviously, but blockchain is more than that. By definition, it is a shared, immutable ledger that can be used for recording transactions, and the blockchain can be used for purposes other than recording cryptocurrency transactions. – Krishna Chandra, Privy Identitas Digital

15. ‘Cloud-Native’

People use this term thinking that it is something they need to be successful in this day and age. Cloud-native applications use new technologies such as Kubernetes, containers or infrastructure as code. People think that by having a cloud product they are already somehow cloud-native. Much more effort goes into being able to make that statement than non-technical people think. – Mercedes Soria, Knightscope

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