How to Tell the Difference

IT fashions. The list is seemingly endless. Business supercomputers, RFID, the British NHS civil IT project and floating data centers to name just a few famous flops.

The difference between a fad and a trend is staying power, says Scott Buchholz, managing director of emerging technology research and chief technology officer for government and public services at Deloitte Consulting. “Trends tend to come and go very quickly, while trends last for years or decades, evolving and changing over time.”

Fads often fall into the “too good to be true” category, notes Buchholz. “They are the silver bullet, the trivial solutions to nasty problems, and the empty promises of complete compliance with buzzwords.”

Falling for a fad could ultimately hamper an organization’s innovation team. “Depending on your budget and scale, you might only have a few big swings a year,” says Mike Storiale, vice president, innovation development, at consumer financial services company Synchrony. Time wasted on a fad can delay, or perhaps even stop, work on a truly useful initiative.

Important trend indicators

Trends generally represent clear business value. Unlike fads, trends are typically logical developments rooted in previously successful innovations. “Recommendation engines, for example, have evolved from rule-based models to statistics to machine learning,” explains Buchholz. “Microservices evolved from a long history of web services, service-oriented architecture, remote object invocation, and more.”

A real trend can also open up new possibilities. “Autonomous driving could allow people to live, work and vacation farther away,” says Storiale. Self-driving vehicles could also permanently change purchasing trends and disrupt the way vehicles are purchased, insured and serviced.

due diligence

IT industry consultants rely on networks of hundreds or even thousands of experts to guide their technology research and make decisions. “For those without this supporting infrastructure, it can be very helpful to get advice from a trusted, independent expert,” says Buchholz.

Follow the money, advises Joel Martin, executive research leader at management consulting and research firm HFS Research. “If there’s an opportunity to monetize the offering, investors will invest in the due diligence to make that possible,” he says. While strong financial backing doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, it will likely attract followers who want to emulate or copy the innovation and reinforce the potential for long-term success.

Business outcomes generally come from three directions: higher revenue, lower costs, or new revenue streams, says Prashant Kelker, partner and head of Americas, digital procurement and solutions at global technology research and advisory firm ISG. “The more we can combine business results with new developments, the better we will be able to explain ‘why’ and separate trends from fads.”

All on board – or not

The best time to jump on a promising trend is when it becomes a topic of discussion among a large number of potential adopters, says Kelker. “When a major new trend begins to create the ability to connect dots across travel for a seamless experience, it’s time to embrace it.”

Storiale suggests that potential adopters should ask themselves whether the trend is likely to survive a downturn in the Gartner Hype Cycle. “At this stage, a lot of people will be wondering if the fuss was a fad and not the trend they thought it was,” he explains.

It is important to identify, analyze and evaluate promising trends early on in order to fully understand their value and potential. On the other hand, it’s best to defer full deployment until a solid business case is established. “For example, AI-driven marketing solutions can sound compelling, but if they don’t demonstrate an increase in sales, implementing them in production can be more trouble than it’s worth,” says Buchholz.

Early experimentation is always important — at least to move from a theoretical understanding of a topic to its implementation, says Kelker. “Organizations should be careful not to confuse ‘nail it’ approaches with ‘scale it’ approaches.”

The timing is crucial. Martin advises getting into a trend as soon as possible when the innovation is being adopted by multiple vendors and entering the business mainstream. “Look for a window when the third viable market leader comes along and push hard when the solution/product is relevant to your market/customers,” he recommends.

Long-term survival of a trend requires empowerment, pushing boundaries and hooks that ensure market engagement. “If you examine what the future might be like, you can determine if [the trend] could make it beyond that [early] stage and have staying power,” says Storiale.

People often say that failure is never an option. But if failure is inevitable, it should at least have the right reasons. “Recognizing whether what you’re following is a trend or a fad can help set a foundation for success,” says Storiale.

What to read next:

IT Job Skills 2022: What’s hot, what’s not?

According to Forrester, the top 10 trends transforming the cloud

Why it’s so difficult to accurately predict IT trends

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