AI has sucked all the air out of the room of late, but the tech that makes AI possible keeps the business humming and advances the core mission of IT and the business too often goes overlooked, unused, and underfunded.
Generative AI and, more specifically, ChatGPT captivated the corporate world in 2023, with board directors, CEOs, and other executives fawning (and sometimes fearing) the technology.
Their enthusiasm is justified, with multiple studies finding that AI is delivering strong value and returns on investment. IBM, for one, found that the average ROI on enterprise-wide AI initiatives is 5.9%, with best-in-class companies “reaping an enviable 13% ROI.”
No wonder that they’re all talking about it.
But with all due respect, AI is hardly the only critical tech in town. Yes, recent advancements in AI have been groundbreaking, and those advancements have revolutionary potential, but artificial intelligence — like all hyped-up tech — is built on the shoulders of numerous other technologies that don’t seem to get any glory at all.
With that in mind, we asked a group of IT leaders and tech analysts to list what they think are some underhyped technologies, why they get overlooked, and why they shouldn’t. Here are the technologies they find to be among the most underappreciated in IT today.
IT management software
CIOs and their teams can hardly do their jobs nor build and manage the extensive tech stack required to support AI and any other newfangled technology coming to market today if they don’t have a handle on their IT environment.
IT management software helps them accomplish that task — and accomplish it to a practically perfect degree of stability and reliability.
“Anything that falls into the category of IT management tools is often cast aside, but these are the workhorses of IT,” says John Buccola, CTO of E78 Partners, which provides consulting and managed services in finance technology and other professional areas.
Tools that Buccola puts into this class of “unsung heroes” include Active Directory and access and identity management solutions. (“They really simplify environments that are heterogeneous,” notes Buccola, who is also an officer with the Southern California chapter of the Society for Information Management.)
“You don’t think about them. They all just work, and that’s what people want from IT,” he adds.
Other tools worth calling out are IT service management (ITSM) and IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) solutions — which Buccola says are particularly critical for helping to keep IT expenses in check.
Just think how the cost of cloud computing services could explode if no one had an eye on it. As Buccola says: “Something has to sit on top of that to make sure the costs associated with those assets aren’t spinning out of control.”
Indeed, it would be nearly impossible to find a CIO who doesn’t have to be diligent about managing IT costs — something they would be hard-pressed to do without the management tools to help them.
“This stuff doesn’t get a lot of press, but they’re such essentials for IT teams,” Buccola adds.
Go back 15 years when cloud was the tech generating all the buzz, and analysts were trying to separate reality from the hype.
Today the model doesn’t seem like such a marvel, but when you think about it, cloud still deserves a lot of praise.
“It has been one of the most enabling technology shifts we’ve ever had, and because of the move to cloud, it enables us to do everything else we’re doing now. But it has gone completely to the background, because AI has sucked up all the air,” says Mark Taylor, CEO of the Society for Information Management (SIM).
Even though many still recognize the cloud’s formidable transformational power, research suggests why the cloud’s significance gets downplayed. Some clues are found in the 2023 Cloud Business Survey from professional services firm PwC. The survey showed that 78% of responding executives had adopted the cloud in most or all parts of the business, yet more than half said they had not realized expected outcomes such as cost reductions, improved resiliency, and new revenue channels.
PwC suggests, however, that fault doesn’t lie with cloud computing but with how organizations use it: “Moving to the cloud or running parts of your business in the cloud is not the same as being cloud-powered. What does that really mean, and what does it take?
“About 10% of those surveyed apparently know the answer: They have reinvented their businesses through the cloud, they report fewer barriers to realizing value, and they’re doing so at a rate twice that of other companies. And even in the current business environment, they expect to see continued revenue growth of 15% or greater.”
Cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) is another behind-the-scenes technology that often gets overlooked in favour of newer, glossier tech, says Jeff Stovall, CIO of Abt Associates, who adds that cloud-based ERPs are rarely credited for how critical they are for digital transformation.
“We’ve done ERPs for so many years, we’ve been doing these ERP projects for decades, but with cloud ERPs, there’s a shift in how business can innovate,” says Stovall, who is also former City of Charlotte CIO and a SIM board member.
By moving from on-prem to the cloud, organizations can reimagine their business processes and transform how core facets of their work get done, Stovall says. “It’s a catalyst for transformation, but it’s an overlooked catalyst, because we’ve become so comfortable with the concept of ERP that we don’t think about its transformational capabilities,” he adds.
In fact, Stovall sees some organizations stick with on-premises ERP even as they seek to transform other pieces of their IT environment and business processes — not realizing how much more they could accomplish if they would modernize this fundamental enterprise core and the processes it supports.
Cloud migration tools
Yugal Joshi, a partner at research and advisory firm Everest Group, lists cloud assessment tools as another tech that’s underhyped — and underused.
Cloud assessment and cloud migration tools, or cloud-enablement platforms, all help IT teams analyze and understand applications and cloud infrastructure so they have the information required for a solid cloud deployment roadmap.
Sure, other technologies, such as IT audit software, can help here, as can manual assessments, but Joshi says cloud assessment tools have proven to boost the chances of successful cloud initiatives.
“CIOs sometimes think they don’t need this tool because moving to cloud has become so pervasive. They think migration is easy, but it’s complex and the choices of cloud vendors and offerings have increased, [adding to that complexity],” Joshi explains.
Basic IT plumbing and back-office mainstays
Similarly, Kumud Kokal, CIO of Farmers Business Network, lists as undervalued the fundamental technologies within the IT environment that were once marvels but no one ever pauses to value anymore. Specific technologies he names include payroll systems (that seamlessly deliver to workers the money they’re owed) and WiFi networks (that deliver everywhere connectivity).
There’s a downside to that underappreciation, he says: CIOs often face challenges when asking for enough money to maintain those out-of-sight, out-of-mind technologies.
“Nobody thinks about the plumbing behind the scenes anymore, but it’s all critical,” he adds.
Data management software
Although AI gets all the attention, the key components that make it work often do not, including data. Yet, as organizations eagerly embrace AI in all its forms, many have neglected parts of their data management needs, says Laura Hemenway, president, founder, and principal of Paradigm Solutions, which supports large enterprise-wide transformations.
Even those who are on top of data management often downplay the powerful work their data management tools do. As such, Hemenway thinks data management software deserves more recognition for the important job it does, even as the work involved is often considered a tedious task that doesn’t have the pizzazz of making the most of ChatGPT.
Still, sound data management is a linchpin for AI and other analytics work, which underpins a whole host of processes deemed critical in modern business — from automated processes to personalized customer support. So it’s essential to get it right.
Spatial computing, virtual presence, and the metaverse
There was plenty of buzz around the coming metaverse several years ago, excitement over which peaked in 2021 when Facebook announced it was changing its name to Meta — a nod to what the social media giant sees for the future of computing, many concluded.
But with no big breakthroughs, interest fizzled, and the metaverse found itself on some overhyped tech lists. But don’t be so quick to write it off, warns Taylor, who thinks this category of tech has been unfairly downgraded, which lands it on his list of underhyped technologies.
Taylor, who prefers the terms spatial computing and virtual presence to metaverse, notes that all the technologies in this category enable immersive virtual world experiences regardless of their differences. Inflated expectations from vendors that have not been able to fully deliver the seamless virtual experiences they have promised are a key reason why the hype quickly cooled off, Taylor says.
“But when they figure it out, like AI, it will change everything. It will just take the limits off so many things. And because it’s underhyped, people may be unprepared for when it has its breakthrough moment,” he says.