Highlighting best practice
Dan Norris-Jones, managing
City of London
Priocept, founded in 2004 and with offices in London and
San Francisco, helps businesses create digital products and
services. Providing a range of consultancy services in the fields
of software development, ecommerce, cloud infrastructure and
web operations, Priocept works with many of Europe’s leading
organisations to help them exploit the latest digital technologies.
Priocept’s founder, Dan Norris-Jones, believes there is an inherent
problem in the provision of technology consultancy services, not
only for Priocept but for many companies across the IT industry.
More than anything else, it is the willing use of verbose technical
language – jargon – that hinders the operation of technology
companies, making the industry appear unapproachable. Dan
discusses here the problems with inter-industry reliance on jargon,
and how this must be addressed as the world beyond information
technology becomes increasingly reliant on itsservices.
A call for plain English in the digital world
When we founded Priocept to help organisations with the dual challenge of
understanding information technologies and subsequently translating this
understanding into the successful delivery of software solutions, we defined the
following as one of our founding values:
Never blind with science – always use plain English rather than buzzwords
Unfortunately, the world of information technology, computing and “digital” are
awash with even more jargon than when we started out 14 years ago. At Priocept
»Managing director:
Dan Norris-Jones
»Established in 2004
»Headquartered in London,
with offices in San Francisco
»Services: Assistance for
businesses in creating digital
products and services
»No. of employees: 20
»Clients include Argos, Avis,
GlaxoSmithKline, Kent & Essex
Police and Virgin Mobile
»A leading UK partner of
Amazon Web Services and
Google Cloud Platform
we have resisted this trend as much as
possible, but every year it takes more
time and effort than ever before to
communicate technology concepts
clearly without succumbing to the
temptation to use the latest batch of
meaningless buzzwords.
Despite working with information
technology and software all day
every day, and despite employing
consultants who are experts in various
digital technologies, even we struggle
to make sense of all the latest jargon
being used. Most technology jargon
is not clearly defined, so if you find
one expert who can explain what
a term means, the next expert you
speak with will invariably give you a
If the experts in the field of information
and digital technology can’t agree on,
clearly define or understand their own
terminology, then what chance does
the lay person – consumer, business
leader or government policymaker –
have of understanding all the various
terms and their nuances?
The worst offenders
Whether you are a consumer, a
business person or a technologist
yourself, do you know what “the
cloud” is? Don’t be ashamed if not
– neither do we. Priocept works with
“the cloud” every day and yet we
could not define what it was if you
asked us, nor could anyone else in our
industry. It’s simply marketing jargon
which has, unfortunately, found its
way into the day-to-day vocabulary of
consumers, business and government.
What about “cyberspace”? It sounds
like something out of a 1980s science-
fiction movie, but for all practical
purposes, “cyberspace” just means
“the internet”. Most people understand
what the internet is – virtually nobody
understands what cyberspace is. So, let
us call a spade a spade and start saying
“the internet”instead.
Then we have “cybersecurity”. Once
again, it sounds like something from
the movies or a CIA-themed series on
Netflix. When we say “cybersecurity”,
we simply mean “information
security”, or perhaps “internet
security” or even just “computer
security”. So why can’t we say this? We
have business and government leaders,
at the most senior levels, perpetuating
this jargon and needlessly difficult
vocabulary and therefore perpetuating
misunderstandings and confusion.
The list continues. We have extensive
regulations surrounding the use of
“cookies”, requiring businesses to
ask consumers to accept them, and
yet many consumers would have no
idea what a cookie was or what they
were accepting. We have “the internet
of things” or “IoT”, even though
everything that has ever been connected
to the internet is inherently a “thing”.
Even the word “digital” is heavily
misused and increasingly meaningless,
and now seems to be used, incorrectly,
to mean “anything that runs on a
computer, phone or theinternet”.
Devonshire Square,
The key to
elimination is
to ask
yourself: when
you are about
to use a given
term, do you
what it
Highlighting best practice
First principles not fashion
As information technology becomes
increasingly complex, we need to
get better at communicating its
The key to jargon elimination is to ask
yourself: when you are about to use
a given term, do you truly understand
what it means? If not, then go back
to first principles. Seek out the most
basic underlying terms that you really
understand and which you know
are commonly understood. Then
communicate from first principles
using these terms as the foundation.
Avoid adding fashionable jargon just
for effect. Resist the temptation to join
the echo chamber and ask yourself
if the jargon is necessary. If it has
an unclear or ambiguous meaning,
Why is this important?
In previous generations, the UK has
taken a leadership role in democracy,
law, human rights, industry and many
other areas that define our society.
There remains a huge opportunity
to take a global leadership role in
information technology.
The English language is the first
language of technology, of computing
and of software. Billions of lines of
code are written each year, with
nearly all programming languages
using an English-based syntax.
But virtually all technology jargon,
whether “cloud” or “cookies”, is
also English-based. The UK has an
opportunity to encourage the use of
plain English in technology, to use
this to develop a leadership position
in technology, and to improve both
technology education and economic
productivity as a result.
Many information technology projects
continue to be delivered late and over
budget while failing to meet their
original objectives. Moreoften than
not the cause is not the limitations
of the technology itself but poor
execution – poor planning and
management – and this is typically
caused by poor communication.
Information technology’s obsession
with needlessly confusing jargon has a
lot to answer for here.
Although Priocept is very effective at
building complex software systems and
digital platforms for our clients, what
we are most effective at is helping
our clients understand a myriad of
information technologies, what they
all mean, how they work, and how
they can be utilised to maximum
advantage within an organisation. We
invariably achieve the most effective
communication with our clients – who
are typically business people rather
than technologists – on subjects
relating to complex technologies by
eliminating all the jargon, going back
to first principles and talking in plain
English. In 2018 and beyond, we
hope to see business, education and
government doing the same.
IT project
failures are
caused not by
the technology
itself but by
poor execution
– poor
planning, poor
and poor
Code – the heart of all
software development