Reaching the plateau

End of the cycle

Gartner’s Hype Cycle charts the journey of new technology through five stages of development, from inception to production and, potentially, adoption. Gartner names the five phases Innovation Trigger, Peak of Inflated Expectations, Trough of Disillusionment, Slope of Enlightenment and Plateau of Productivity.

In the fifth and final part of an Insights series about the cycle, we investigate the ‘Plateau of Productivity’, when consumers finally embrace the respective technologies and begin to use them on a large scale.

Oct 5th 2017 

The final stage of the Hype Cycle is where it all begins for most users, who aren’t plugged into Gartner’s influential tech trajectory.

But for those working behind the scenes, making it to the Plateau of Productivity after the roller-coaster ride that came before is no doubt a gratifying experience.

Senior Manager of Voice Business Services at Liberty Global (Virgin Media Business’s parent company), Frank Blaauw, has used the Hype Cycle on and off throughout his career. He takes an interest in the technologies that make it to the plateau.

Frank says, “For me the cycle is a nice way to measure the state of innovations, and what the state of certain innovations are. I use it to confirm whether we need to start work on mainstream products and choose the right timing. All market players choose their position in the innovation lifecycle and timing is important there.

“The Plateau of Productivity is where innovations are accepted and/or embraced by the majority of the market and improved versions come to market. Competition starts to pick up and within the innovation, specialisation and differentiation will appear.”

Working in the dynamic world of European B2B communications, Frank has his own thoughts on technologies that are currently in or around the Plateau of Productivity:

“A typical service that is on this plateau is SIP Trunking and Unified Communications. These services [both available from Virgin Media Business] are now being adopted by the mainstream markets so that more choices and options are available.”

Like many commentators, Frank admits the cycle does have its shortcomings:

“It is subjective without any underpinning data. No science has been used and the naming of the stages is vague.”

VC at Icon Ventures, Michael Mullany, tackled the accuracy of the Hype Cycle in a LinkedIn Pulse posting entitled 8 Lessons From 20 Years of Hype Cycles. In ‘Lesson One’, he points out that over the years very few technologies have adhered to the cycle’s trajectory; that is, starting on the Innovation Trigger and finishing on the Plateau of Productivity.

“[This is] No surprise to any experienced Silicon Valley hands. In general, we're bad at making predictions,” writes Mullany. “Out of the more than 200 unique technologies that have ever appeared on a Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technology, just a handful of technologies – cloud computing, 3D printing, natural language search, electronic ink – have been identified early and travelled even somewhat predictably through a Hype Cycle from start to finish.”

Mullany also takes issue with Gartner placing speech recognition on the Plateau of Productivity way back in the first ever Hype Cycle in 1995. This was long before the technology came anywhere near being useful or widely used.

Mullany writes, “In reality, speech recognition was far from mature in 1995. It's only – possibly – with deep learning breakthroughs in the last two years that we have reached human equivalent recognition in speech recognition. Two decades later.”

In summing up, Mullany takes a more forgiving approach, claiming the Hype Cycle proves how difficult it is to make predictions, but also waxing lyrical about, “how exciting and wondrous is the progress that we've made in technology.” Here, here.

Meanwhile Forbes contributor Benjamin Joffe argues that crowdfunding has earned a place on the Plateau of Productivity in Why Crowdfunding Is Still Booming, Especially For Chinese Tech Companies. Despite naysayers, who point to high-profile crowdfunding flops such as smartwatch company Pebble and sleep aid Sense, Joffe contends the successes outweigh the failures.

“Recently my company collected data on crowdfunded connected device projects,” writes Joffe. “As of July 1, 2017, 100 Kickstarter projects and 30 Indiegogo projects had raised over $1m. Based on updates from each of these projects, we found that the majority had shipped, while others were still in progress. Relatively few failed.”

From the Innovation Trigger through to the Plateau of Productivity, at the very least the Hype Cycle inspires debate among innovative organisations and experts. Which can only be a good thing.

We’ll leave the last word to Frank Blaauw:

“I always approach the Hype Cycle as being just one view. There are more sources available. Including common sense.”


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