Blog: Inflated Expectations

I just finished Reading a white paper on a public sector technology project, but the article never actually stated that the technology was successfully deployed and that it was working effectively.  The article was written in a way that I believed it was in production and fully adopted, but I admit I was suspicious when the article lacked performance measures such as utilization statistics or customer satisfaction.  When I finished reading the article I noticed the disclaimer at the end, and my reservations were confirmed.  The disclaimer basically stated, “The accountability to deliver on any discussed technology in this article does not apply to the people working on the project”.  I took a little bit of academic freedom in my paraphrasing here, but the legal jargon confirmed that no one was to be held accountable.  I should not have been concerned.  I have read the same disclaimer on project white papers before, but this was a long article, and to find out the project had not been deployed was kind of disappointing. 


Credit: iStock


A significant google search on the technology referenced within the white paper produced the following results:

First introduced the concept in 2014…. The app will be available sometime in 2015…. difficult to predict a 2017 release….
……expected to launch in 2018……should be addressed by mid-2019. Probably won’t be until the summer of 2020….


I have seen a trend during my tenure in the public sector regarding technology projects and being written in a way that I believe they have been successfully completed, only to simply “go away” like they were never even started in the first place.  Did you ever notice, there are seldom follow-up reports on projects that never get delivered?  Local papers will report the fallout of failure, the cost to the State, etc., and they should do this, but what about larger publications?  I have never seen an investigative report on what went wrong with one of these projects, or the lessons learned.  Are organizations making overly optimistic statements about their projects; are they reporting on the projects too early in the life cycle?  If the proposed benefit is so far in the future, it might be too early to go public with a white paper.  On my team, we decline requests to provide comments on in-flight projects unless we have already realized positive results and adoption of the technology is imminent.  I wrote about this in the blog, Team Don’t Mention a No-hitter, but there is more to it than personal superstitions.


Let’s start with a quick look at the Gartner Hype Cycle. 


Credit: Gartner

  • The first phase of the Hype Cycle (Technology Trigger) begins when a product receives some media attention.  Remember the Segway?  It was undoubtedly the most hyped invention in my lifetime.  I can still remember thinking that the world of transportation was going to be revolutionized.  


  • Overblown media coverage begins the next phase (Inflated Expectations) where the buzzwords are thrown about.  In the case of the Segway that phase did not last long. 
  • The hype is over and the next phase (Disillusionment) begins.  What are we actually going to use this for, what meaningful value is being delivered? 


  • If the product survives this phase it begins the next phase (enlightenment) where people begin to perceive value from the technology and we read about the rise in adoption rates and the cost saving effects of the technology. 
  • The final phase (Plateau of Productivity) is when it is now mainstream and adoption is widespread.


One might ask, what is wrong with this?

  • Hype diverts us from the basic decision-making process.  Often the most important first step, “What IS the problem we are trying to solve?” Rather than simply, I want to be the first to successfully implement.


  • Evaluation of alternative technology solutions. When a technology is over-hyped it causes many to rush to act without objectively performing the diligence due and analysis necessary, too often believing the hype and reaching for that elusive easy button. 
  • Wasted resources in both time and money for the organization.  Hype manifests pilot projects which take away from the already limited resources available. Are the organizations asking tough questions before getting on the hype train? What happens if your pilot fails, will you still have a working solution?


  • Your reputation and trusted advisor role can be damaged. State Agencies look to the CIO to minimize the risk of project failures.  Confidence in your technical expertise is very tough to build but easy to lose.

A more interesting example perhaps than Segway, Artificial Intelligence entered the Hype Cycle in recent years, which intensified during the events of 2020.  As you can tell from Gartner’s graph, which I’ve shared below, the expectations for machine learning and chat bot technology are extremely high in the hype cycle.  When looking at AI for the practical use of an organization, technology leaders must keep sight of the basic and real innovations of Machine Learning and very well designed Chatbots.  We are now entering the “Trough of Disillusionment”, which will bring the essential skepticism that any new technology needs to experience before it can be actualized. Organizations should invite the skepticism, it does not mean there won’t be mainstream use in the future, but it is still two to five years away.


Credit: Gartner



Bold promises of technological breakthroughs, even the simplest concept of deploying Digital Services should be managed carefully.   Setting realistic expectations about what and when you will deliver is the job of the CIO, otherwise you lose credibility on all future projections.  If the value proposition or technological maturity is so far in the future that the intended audience will not see the results within a realistic timeframe which for me would be no more than 2 years, then it may be that your best option is to let others receive the rewards while also taking the risk of an early investment decision.

As always, I appreciate your efforts to provide quality services to the State Agencies and the Citizens of Nebraska!

Ed Toner