Enough with the TAFLAs!
What is a TAFLA - try Three And Four Letter Acronyms. It is time to put an end to acronyms. They have outlived their usefulness. They do more harm than good. First a little history. Many acronyms, particularly three letter ones like ERP, MES and EAM, came about in the 1990’s. They were first introduced into the market by research firms like Gartner Group (ERP and EAM) and AMR (MES). I was there for the creation of some of these (and am guilty of being the analyst that brought EAM into the vocabulary). Back in the early to mid 1990’s research was published on 8 1/2 x 11 paper (double sided) and every research note was just that, a brief single thought condensed into a thousand words, more or less. As computers started to work their way into manufacturing in the 80’s & 90’s the term CIM or computer integrated manufacturing was born. However the details of what was being integrated and how were still sketchy. As analyst firms tried to articulate what needed to be tied together to improve manufacturing operations there was the birth of terms like enterprise resource planning and manufacturing execution systems. Why? - Well given the constraints of the paper-based publishing models using and acronym like ERP provided two advantages. First of all you could write a single note espousing the concept but more importantly as you continued to expand on the concept, discuss providers and explain the benefits you could use the three letter acronym in subsequent notes. Not a big deal? Wrong - when you are character count restricted using the term ERP 10-15 times in a report versus the “enterprise resources planning” saved 250 - 375 characters - enough for another entire paragraph. It was Blaise Pascal who wrote "Je n'ai fait cette lettre - ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte" which means "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter." As analyst we lived by the mantra “publish or perish” and every character was precious. Hence the use of acronyms. Of course if you could create a acronym that stuck in the market like ERP, EAM or MES it was good for business, both at the analyst firm level as well as the individual analyst level. Being credited with thought leadership is still a hallmark of success in the research and advisory services business which is why we still see acronyms emerging almost weekly from the analyst community. In my next post I’ll expand on why acronyms have outlived their usefulness.