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De-railing the hype train

28 August 2014

Ever heard of the 'Gartner Hype Cycle'? No, we haven't either, but this week's guest blogger Jonathan Wilkins has and he's ready to explain all.

Jonathan Wilkins

New technologies are brilliant but, for better or worse, all of them are susceptible to the twisting, labyrinthine, eldritch machine known as the 'Hype Train', writes Jonathan Wilkins. It’s also called the 'Gartner Hype Cycle', if you want to be clever about it. Essentially, it's all about the dizzying highs and lows product innovations take during their lifetimes.  

Looking back at past technologies, it’s clear that new, ground-breaking innovations are destined to follow the trajectory laid out by the Hype Cycle without fail. The cycle runs technology trigger, peak of inflated expectations, trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment and finally the plateau of productivity. Believe it or not these are well thought out and accurate analytical tools; not names of places in Game of Thrones

But this is our fault; humans love to get excited about things and think ahead to something better. Unfortunately, after the heady heights of the peak of expectations inevitably comes the trough of disillusionment.

The Trough is often the key point of the cycle, the part responsible for the product’s success or failure. This is the time after the product has been hyped beyond its ability to deliver and the public realises it can’t make good on the claims made about it, at least not right away. Whether it makes it out of the Trough and onto the plateau depends entirely on people’s behaviour after the hype has moved on.

In the past we’ve seen technologies move along various stages of the cycle, eventually catching up with their potential some years down the line. The Internet has been riding high on the Plateau of Productivity for years now, with some of the things it has produced outstripping what was claimed in the heights of its own Peak of Expectations. Whether or not you count the ridiculous number of cat pictures as one of the better things to come out of the Plateau is up to you.

Technologies such as 3D Printing are just starting to fall into the Trough. The claims made, like being able to bio-print entire human organs for transplant, may well be possible, and even likely in the next decade. However, it is important to remember that we aren’t all going to simply pop down to the chemist for a new liver any time soon. Not to sound too cynical, but what is being promised seems too good to be true, and that’s a sign that it’s cresting the Peak and heading into the Trough.

My company is firmly invested in the realism of the Plateau of Productivity, despite being as excited as the next industrial technology expert by the technology trigger. While we are interested in the what-ifs and predictions the majority of our work is focused on delivering real-life, usable, functional technology; and that includes some hardware that most would consider to be obsolete. 

While it’s great fun to look ahead and see what may be possible ten or 20 years down the line, it is important to stay grounded as well; so we can deliver the best possible service now while keeping an eye on the future to ensure we stay ahead. We are happy to de-rail the hype train when needed. 

Jonathan Wilkins is marketing manager at European Automation, a company equally committed to providing the most up-to-date automation products as it is searching for an obsolete inverter manufactured in the early 1990s for a client who wants to stick with familiar, trusted technology.

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