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2/3/2006
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Credibility Of Analysts

Do tech vendors wield influence over IT research? You bet--but how much of it is a matter of perspective?

Research firms make their living by offering expert advice to business and technology people about the best ways to invest their IT dollars. It can be invaluable insight, but only if that analysis comes with no strings attached. And on that, there's no guarantee.

Forrester, Gartner, IDC, and others insist their output is squeaky clean, yet they also rake in millions providing services to the very same companies they monitor, heavyweights like Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle. Which leads to a question that continues to dog the research firms: How much influence do technology vendors have over their work?


Gartner CEO Hall: Trust us

Gartner CEO Hall: Trust us

Photo by Ken Schles
At issue are business practices that beg for closer scrutiny. For example, it's not uncommon for IT research firms to write reports that are funded directly by tech vendors. Money changes hands, and the vendor that commissions a report often reviews it before general distribution. Microsoft's "Get The Facts" marketing campaign has made liberal use of sponsored research to tout the benefits of Windows over Linux. Such reports aren't always clearly marked as having a vendor's backing. A 47-page white paper by Security Innovation, published in November, mentions that it was funded by Microsoft at the bottom of page 6.

Analysts also show up in the marketing programs of the companies they cover. IDC's Bob O'Donnell recently made an appearance in a video produced by thin-client vendor Wyse Technology on the advantages of thin-client computing. IDC also published a report, sponsored by Wyse, that found the software and hardware costs of thin clients to be 40% lower than PCs. Wyse, it turns out, is an IDC client.

And there are hard-to-prove grumblings among small vendors that they have a better chance of being covered by a research firm if they are paying clients. It's called pay-for-play, and it's an issue that the overseers of Gartner's office of the ombudsman do their best to dispel on their Weblog (ombudsman.blog.gartner.com).

InformationWeek went to senior executives of leading IT research and advisory firms to ask how they're addressing questions of objectivity and customer trust. Not surprisingly, all say they're committed to delivering information services of the highest integrity. "We are independent--that is not an issue at all," Gartner CEO Gene Hall says. Maybe, but we also see troubling practices that continue to cast doubt over their best intentions.

Symbiotic Relationships

The experience of Stampede Technologies, a provider of data-acceleration software, shows how the symbiotic relationship between a vendor and an advisory company can create the appearance of a conflict of interest. The company's WebRider software was recently ranked in the "visionary" corner of Gartner's Magic Quadrant for application-delivery products. Stampede wasn't a Gartner customer at the time, but the company did pay the research firm $45,000 as a client in 2004 and even introduced its product at a Gartner conference that year.

Now Stampede is thinking about re-upping with Gartner as it shifts into a new line of business, providing acceleration products for Web applications, says director of marketing Keith Vozel. "For a smaller company such as us, favorable positioning lends us a lot more credibility and gives us a push to get in front of customers we might not have reached before," Vozel says.

There are many companies like Stampede--in search of industry recognition and desperate to get the attention of the big research houses. Proofpoint, a Gartner client since 2003, expects to be included in Gartner's first-ever Magic Quadrant for content monitoring and filtering software, due this quarter. "This matters more than you want it to matter," says Sandra Vaughan, Proofpoint's senior VP of marketing and products.

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