Mary K. Pratt
Contributing writer

The 6 most overhyped technologies in IT

Aug 22, 202212 mins
Emerging Technology

IT leaders are not immune to infatuation with the promise of emerging tech. Here, CIOs share which technologies they believe are primed to underdeliver, offering advice on right-sizing expectations for each one.

announcement announce megaphone bull horn microphone by bowie15 getty
Credit: Bowie15 / Getty

Many modern CIOs have adopted the mantra: No technology for technology’s sake.

Yet they and other tech-enthusiasts still get enamored with the newest tool or excited by the latest leap in digital innovation. Caught up in the buzz, they can convince themselves that a hyped technology’s value proposition must be a fit for their company.

“The tech world is ablaze with emerging technologies that have the potential to transform the way we live, work, and learn,” says Jeff Wong, global chief innovation officer at professional services firm EY. “We’ve seen similar hype-cycle environments come and go before. While there’s incredible promise of transformation from these new technologies, the buzz around it can lead people to believe that implementing the innovation is immediate, but it’s not.”

The trick, he and others say, is to see each technology as it really is — including its potential pitfalls and drawbacks along with its promised potential. In other words, strategic and transformational IT leaders know how to separate the dream from the reality.

With that in mind, we asked CIOs to share with their peers the technologies they think are overhyped, and their thoughts on how to right-size expectations for each one. Here’s what they have to say about the most overhyped tech in IT today.

1. The metaverse

Despite the excitement — or perhaps because of it — multiple CIOs name the metaverse as the most overhyped tech. These CIOs say that metaverse enthusiasts, including vendors who have a stake in its promotion, have created a sense that this technology will have us all living in a new digital realm. Most aren’t buying it.

“Could it turn out to be great? Well, possibly. But so many other things have to change in order for that to work,” says Bob Johnson, CIO of The American University of Paris, who extended his comments to include the related technologies of extended reality (XR), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). “They have some wonderful applications, but they don’t change the way we live.”

He adds: “If we believe the Hollywood perspective, the metaverse would change everything, but the stuff that’s invisible, all the technology infrastructure, can’t keep up. So I don’t see the metaverse in the near term changing our lives.”

CIOs aren’t the only ones skeptical about the metaverse: A recent poll from software company Momentive, in conjunction with the news company Axios, found that a majority of Americans don’t really give the tech much thought. Some 60% say they’re not familiar with the whole metaverse concept, and among those who are, 35% are more scared of it than not, 14% are more excited, and 50% are neither.

Others, however, show a bit more enthusiasm for the metaverse. Professional services firm PwC surveyed more than 5,000 US consumers and 1,000 US business leaders and found that 50% of consumers call the metaverse “exciting” while 66% of executives say they’re either building proofs of concepts or implementing use cases — and in some cases, they are already generating revenue from transactions.

But even PwC tempers those figures, noting “it’s important to keep in mind that the ‘ultimate’ version of the metaverse (fully immersive, with seamless and secure transitions among a multitude of metaverse environments) doesn’t exist yet.”

Marcelo De Santis, chief digital officer at technology consultancy Thoughtworks North America, blames the hype on “a combination of announcements from social media giants and the like, plus the emerging growth of NFTs [non-fungible tokens] — a debatable application of blockchain technology.”

He says executives need to get a better grip on the technology itself as well as the potential.

“I believe we need clarity not only about what the metaverse is, but also about how we see its evolution; in other words: What’s possible today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow? This clarity will help to set a strategic framework on how to evolve the technology, talent, and business capabilities to turn the metaverse into a meaningful transformation engine that is good for business, the public sector, and society,” he adds.

2. Blockchain

CIOs also labeled blockchain as overhyped, noting that the technology has failed to be as transformative or even as useful as hoped nearly a decade into its use.

“Initially, the name ‘blockchain’ sounded pretty cool and quickly became a buzzword that drew interest and peeked curiosities,” says Josh Hamit, senior vice president and CIO of Altra Federal Credit Union and a member of ISACA’s Emerging Trends Working Group. “However, in actual practice, it has proved more difficult for many organizations to identify tangible use cases for blockchain, or distributed ledger as it is also known.”

Hamit points to Gartner research that found a less than enthusiastic embrace of blockchain, with the firm saying that “blockchain has already started to revolutionize ways of doing business, but even CIOs aren’t totally on board, let alone the rest of the executive leadership team.” The firm’s research from 2016 to 2021 show that, on average, 45% of CIOs have said that their organization has no interest in blockchain.

“Despite the promise and hype of blockchain, many CIOs seemingly aren’t buying in,” Hamit says.

Still, Hamit and others aren’t writing off the technology and do predict that blockchain will — eventually — deliver on its potential.

3. Web3 technologies in general

Greg Taffet, managing partner and CIO with Taffet Associates, started his list with blockchain but quickly expanded it to include cryptocurrency and NFTs — both enabled by blockchain — as well as decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs).

“All overhyped,” Taffet says.

The proof, he adds, is in the rush from some executives to implement the technologies without good use cases.

“Companies don’t want to be left behind while they are figuring out how to properly utilize the technology for their company. So they are going ahead with projects before they determine if there are better or alternative technologies they should use,” he says, although he does acknowledge that “the potential for Web3 technologies is huge.” In fact, he’s working on several smart cities projects that use some Web3 technologies.

“We have done the design and analysis of the specific technologies. We have picked specific technologies for different parts of the project making sure it is an appropriate use,” he says. But he has had challenges finding people who have both the technical knowledge to implement these and the business experience to make good use of them — a fact that he says “contributes to the misuse and hype” that’s currently surrounding Web3 technologies.

Lawrence Anderson, CIO for the Office of the Secretary at the US Department of Commerce, made similar observations, saying that any technology dependent on big infrastructure or multiple parties are so far promising more than they’ve delivered in value.

“I believe it’s a very powerful technology. I think its potential is great. But it’s something we’re not ready for. We’re not ready for it, in terms of the amount of people and infrastructure needed to support the technology,” Anderson says, explaining that the bandwidth, workforce skills, and multiparty agreements required to make such technology hum aren’t yet in place.

4. Cloud and cloud-based solutions

Enterprises have been accelerating cloud adoption of late, in particular since the onset of the pandemic, and the strategic and its solutions often prove their value, but some CIOs count cloud as an overhyped tech. The reason? They see both enterprise IT departments and software makers just doing a lift-and-shift, moving their code to the cloud but not modernizing it in any meaningful way. Consequently, the IT departments don’t see any of the benefits they’ve been told the cloud provides, while the partners and vendors performing those lift-and-shifts aren’t delivering any promised improved performance to their customers.

“We are seeing solutions lifting and shifting from the data center to cloud but without taking advantage of the true benefits cloud-native [development] brings to the table. Organizations are surprised, when they move to a cloud solution and they encounter the same clunky, non-scalable, issues they saw in their data center,” says Monique Dumais-Chrisope, senior vice president and CIO of Encore Capital Group.

She continues: “It’s encouraging bad behavior by some of these organizations that want to declare they are ‘on the cloud’ when really they have just put their hardware-ready code on the cloud. There are plenty of solid solutions, in data centers, that work well there, and we need to give them the opportunity to reinvent themselves on the cloud. Some of their early offerings are clearly not cloud native, and we need to ask the right questions to truly understand what they mean by offering solutions on the cloud.”

5. Artificial intelligence

For its 2021 report, Thriving in an AI World, professional services firm KPMG surveyed nearly 1,000 executives about their thoughts on AI and found that 74% believe “the use of AI to help business is more hype than reality right now.”

Some CIOs share that view.

“People spin it as a magical black box that just does things right, but I’m instantly skeptical because I know the limitations of the technology,” says Matt Nerney, a fractional CIO with TPP Global Services.

Nerney, like other tech leaders, doesn’t dispute that AI is a powerful technology. But, he says, AI requires a lot of resources, including large data sets to train it and data scientists to manage it. Implementing AI is time-intensive and a complex undertaking, and in the end, it’s still based on pattern-matching.

But CIOs aren’t just left to right-size expectations around true AI, they say they’re also combatting software vendor marketing messages that toss around the AI term to describe the algorithms or machine learning powering the technology.

“There’s pressure from outside of IT, [with business-unit colleagues] saying, ‘We should just do this solution. It has AI, so it must be really good.’ And you have to tell them it’s probably not [actually AI],” Nerney says, adding the term “AI” seems much more of an advertising pitch right now.

Hamit agrees: “‘AI is often severely overused as a way to market applications and technologies in order to exaggerate their capabilities.”

6. Collaboration platforms

As organizations shifted to remote work due to pandemic-induced restrictions on in-person gatherings, and as they continue to enable work-from-anywhere policies today, they’ve implemented plenty of collaboration tools to help workers get their work done.

But Eric Johnson, executive vice president and CIO of Momentive, doesn’t see those technologies delivering all the hoped-for benefits.

“We’ve been inundated with every single collaboration tool you can imagine,” he says, noting that while some were in place before COVID hit, many more were implemented during the past few years to support remote and hybrid work models. “They have tons of promise, but I think with the drive around the remote work/hybrid work environment they really started to get overhyped. The whole intent of collaboration tools is to help workers be more efficient, more engaged, to get work done better, but as you introduce every use case imaginable, they almost worked against being more efficient because you have to start having to jump between 12 different tools to get work done.”

He adds: “I don’t know if it’s overhyped, but it is hype, in the sense that it’s a shiny thing that doesn’t live up to the excitement.”

That may not be surprising, given the speed of adoption that took place over the past few years. According to Gartner’s Digital Worker Experience Survey, nearly 80% of workers were using collaboration tools for work in 2021, up from about 50% in 2019 — a 44% increase. The use of storage/sharing and real-time mobile messaging tools also increased, by 74% and 80%, respectively.

Similar to expectations around other hyped-up tech, Johnson expects the market for collaboration tools to mature and, with that, deliver better experiences and overall results.

“We’ve got so many different point solutions, many of which were easy to adopt [by business-unit workers] with a credit card, and sometimes the technology didn’t play nice with others, some were hard to integrate, so it created a complex set of tools that was hard for employees to navigate,” he says.

Johnson expects the market will consolidate, with bigger enterprise platform solutions acquiring some of the best-of-breed offerings and some best-of-breeds building out their capabilities to offer a single software product that creates a more complete, seamless collaboration experience.

It’s then, he says, that the tech will start living up to all its hype — and some other will take its place on the list.