What did you say?

Can someone out there tell me about internetworking? I used to know about networks, then I found out about the Internet which is a network and intranets, which aren’t quite the same.

Then there’s “business enabler,” a term which is somehow different from a worker if we assume it’s a he or a she. It could also be a computer if it’s hardware, or software if it’s part of a business application. Then we have uptime and downtime which I think I understand, but I’m not sure about the metrics of cost containment.

Before everyone rushes to their keyboards to explain all of these terms to me, may I ask why the IT industry has such a passion for inventing strange words and phrases? Now that I think of it, the IT industry is not alone. The medical profession still uses 14-sylable Latin and lawyers just write sentences connected by a lot of “whereases.”

Apparently the engineers of the world are upset with the IT profession for using the word “engineer” when describing network engineers, software engineers and business re-engineering. The first two phrases may be splitting hairs, but there’s some justification for complaining about the third. How can you re-engineer something that was never engineered in the first place? Networks and software nowadays have become remarkably complex, so it’s probably appropriate for someone that does these things to be an engineer in practice if not as part of the guild.

Software is probably a word that needed to be invented since it went with hardware, a word that has been around for ages, but now we have hard and soft versions of everything, depending on whether it’s electronic or on paper.

At least some of the words and phrases are clever. IBM’s Blue Gene is a case in point. Seems strange to have a pun like that from a company that at one time decreed appropriate business attire is any colour shirt as long as it’s white and any colour suit as long as it’s dark. Then there are all the e-something words, or the x-something words being used as brand names or new company names. Trying to check some of them out on the Web can sometimes create rejections by company browsers that consider them unsuitable for mature consenting business enablers.

To be serious, why can’t we use the language (English or French in Canada) properly in the IT world? Is it any wonder that the business people at all levels – all of whom are “business enablers” of some sort – have difficulty understanding what we’re talking about? Seems to me it come under the heading of jargon. Every business group has it. If you don’t believe me, listen to a group of doctors, lawyers or politicians at a cocktail party.

It’s especially interesting if one of each is in a single conversation, each dropping in their particular buzzwords. But jargon is good. It helps keep out the people who are not part of the trade, craft, guild or profession. It provides comfortable bonding with one’s peers and it shortens communications. What used to require whole sentences to say can now be handled with 10 letters, two numbers and a couple of grunts for punctuation. I know one sentence that can be said with three letters and a whole bunch more that can be said with four letters. Trouble is, it only works as communication if everyone understands the meaning, or at least has the same translation. The same thing applies to the rest of our jargon. Not the meaning of workplace or metrics as individual words, but what is the phrase supposed to mean? Is it work measurement, job productivity measurement, or no measurement at all?

If you think all of this is silly, try reading out loud a contract or a service agreement for an enterprise business application incorporating hardware, software and network support. Hang a Shakespearian twist to the style and the audience will roll in the aisles with laughter or weep into their handkerchiefs with frustration. It’s a sad commentary on business communications, and a perennial problem. Just remember to speak the other guy’s language and keep it simple.

Or I suppose we could just check out all the new words on the Web, eh?

Horner is a partner in Sierra Systems Consultants, Corporate Enterprise Systems practice. He can be reached at alhorner@sierrasys.com.