01 September 2013

The Overhyped Business Buzzwords

The business community, like most others, thrives on convenience. Complex changes in the market or new concepts get reduced to simple phrases like "big data" or "infomediary" (remember that one?) to fit into executive summary style investement theses. As with any trend, by the time it gets institutionalized, it has become overhyped, overvalued, or too late.

I recently wrote about the rise of ACOs in health care. In addition to the billions of deals done by payors and hospital systems, private equity invested nearly $4B in health care services in 2012 alone. As I surmised that if ACOs are no more than HMOs or closed payor systems of the past, then how will they ultimately prove in their current valuations? Reform has failed to make any significant changes to the health care delivery system, so how will the ACO's fair better than their predecessors? ACOs are merely a term for large future bets without a clear path to better outcomes at lower costs.

Software as a service, and offshoots such as mobile, has been flush with investment in recent years. I still can't figure it out what exactly people are investing in. The AAAS (anything as a service) model gives little regard to the underlying product by instead focusing on unproven startups in a new distribution platform. Microsoft might have missed the boat on mobile and the shift away from client-based installations, but if consumers ultimately like their spreadsheet and operating systems best, why would SaaS based competitors succeed? No question the incumbent has given rivals a huge window to catch up, but if Microsoft can maintain product superiority in the long run than it won't matter (it is Microsoft, so I won't hold my breath). The medium in which users consume software is important, but certainly the underlying products and services will be more valuable over time.

Similarly, cloud computing seems to a nascent, growing phenomenon, right? When I was in telecom ten years ago, we called them Storage Area Networks. Nowadays, any outsourced IT infrastructure is in the "cloud" and commands huge premiums. What is most perplexing to me is how the companies that are enabling the shift such as server makers and internet infrastructure are seeing their businesses squeezed, while cloud-based consumer concerns like Dropbox command billion dollar valuations. Dont get me wrong, I love Dropbox's interface and ease of use, but there is nothing groundbreaking in a modern day FTP website.

TQM was going to eliminate US auto manufacturers. Ecommerce was going to kill retail industry. The new business buzzwords have always failed to reach the levels of the initial hype. These technological shifts and efficiency gains have significantly altered distribution, democratized broken industries, and changed market leadership; but they haven't been the category killers originally thought by investment pundits. Perhaps a more realistic title to "video killed the radio star" should have been mtv took market share from unsuspecting incumbents. But then again, everyone likes the Buggles version better.


  1. Raki, I assume you're familiar with the Gartner hype cycle? If not, I think you'd like it. Here's a link: http://www.virtualtravelog.net/wp/wp-content/gallery/2011-04-hype-cycles/Gartner-Hype-Cycle-2010.gif

  2. Nice - graphical illustration of the article!