Software // Information Management
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6/26/2009
05:50 AM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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When Business Gets Too Personal

Visualization guru Stephen Few reminds us that analyst opinions, while offered by recognized experts, are inherently personal, and that on the other side of the table, there are real people behind products, marketing campaigns, and corporate decisions. But I disagree with Steve that analysts should always name names. Some situations become simply too personal...

Visualization guru Stephen Few reminds us that analyst opinions, while offered by recognized experts, are inherently personal, and that on the other side of the table, there are real people behind products, marketing campaigns, and corporate decisions. I'll amplify that each of us does bring unique personal experience and even personality to bear when reviewing (analysts) or promoting (vendors) products, and I'll agree that we should each be accountable for what we write or claim.

It's an analyst's personal perspective, coupled with strong judgment, communications skills, and fairness, that creates a sense of authority and makes his or her views worth reading. Good analysts don't blindly accept vendor claims. We investigate, and sometimes we reject what we've been told. But I disagree with Steve that analysts should always name names. Some situations become simply too personal. I and others I know have even been the subject vindictive behavior, which unhelpfully diverts attention from products to people. In the worst cases I've seen, the vendor can even exploit personal conflict to dismiss or attempt to denigrate the analyst.Among cases I've encountered recently, involving other analysts and myself, I suppose the most egregious vendor response I've seen involved a dominant BI and analytics vendor, which canceled a pending research-sponsorship deal with an analyst friend. (When analysts, including myself, undertake sponsored research or writing, the presumption is editorial independence. The vendor is funding work but has no say in outcome once basic terms have been agreed and also should not presume influence over the analyst's other work.) The sore point was the analyst's resistance, which I share, to unrelated market-positioning efforts, in this case to the vendor's assertion that business intelligence and BI vendors are passé, that customers should insist on business analytics, the vendor's sweet spot.

Killing a deal over a disagreement about terminology?! Amazing and petty, yet the vendor that did this has nonetheless, otherwise earned its very strong reputation. No good purpose is served here in naming names; the products are no less worthy because of this instance of pettiness.

Another case involves a vendor in the analytical DBMS space, which is dominated by companies including Teradata, Sybase, Netezza, and Greenplum. A different analyst was cut off by the vendor for blogging views seen as negative by the vendor. So was I: blocked on twitter of all places because I posted the view, derived from an examination of the vendor's customer base and venture funding and competition, that the vendor would likely be acquired or shut down by year end. Cutting off analysts isn't going to change what we say. It only affirms suspicions. Nonetheless, public response to this kind of pettiness wouldn't accomplish anything. In the worst case, it could even prompt questions about the analyst's objectivity. Maybe that was the vendor rep's goal?

Case #3 involves Stephen Few and also myself. A new BI entrant launched last fall with extensive outreach to analysts, claiming strong analytical and visualization capabilities via spreadsheet-like formulas. Naturally the vendor's CEO didn't appreciate having pointed out in print that contrary to the messaging he'd pushed, his product didn't even match analytics and visualization capabilities that have been available in Excel, the market-leading spreadsheet program, for years. Yet the CEO's (unjustified) bitter twitter outburst, "Contemplating the notion of accountability as applied to members of the press. Interviews and articles bear no resemblance some times," bears no relation to the quality of his company's product. It would be a disservice to readers to associate his outburst -- his misguided idea that IT writers should be accountable to software vendors and parrot the vendors' messages -- with his company's product. Best to avoid getting embroiled in a (figurative) shoving match.

A few searches would probably suffice to uncover two of the three companies I've written about in this article. I'm not trying to hide their identities. What I am trying to do is to distinguish products from personalities, to recognize that while real people create companies and products, they also create complications that are sometimes, simply, best ignored.Visualization guru Stephen Few reminds us that analyst opinions, while offered by recognized experts, are inherently personal, and that on the other side of the table, there are real people behind products, marketing campaigns, and corporate decisions. But I disagree with Steve that analysts should always name names. Some situations become simply too personal...

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