Blog-Based Analysts Shake Up IT Research

A new breed of IT analysts is sharing insights over the Internet, leaving traditional research firms trying to catch up using the same methods.
M-Systems continues to rely on Gartner for big-picture market analysis, but Reichenberg finds it impossible to tune out the Web's constant chatter, lest he miss some crucial piece of information or perspective. He typically devotes about half a day per week to conducting his own customer research and searching RSS feeds, the Web, and his Gartner account for relevant information the company can use in developing and marketing its products.

Where's the open source research? The Hartford's James McGovern asks.

Where's the open source research? The Hartford's James McGovern asks.
The old-school model for research and advice isn't necessarily broken, but it would be better served by more visibility into how information is gathered and conclusions are derived, says Redmonk's Governor. He has been outspoken about this topic in his MonkChips blog, yet like most bloggers, Governor knows that success and credibility come from reaching not just a large number of readers, but also reaching the right readers. Bloggers can gauge their own influence by who else links to them and who posts comments on their sites. Anyone can run a blog and be "famous for 15 people," as Governor puts it. "If these readers are the right people, that influence can be profound."

Old Guard Adapts
Blogs, search engines, and other online sources of information are proliferating at a furious pace. "Today everyone praises Google. In five years it'll seem very crude," says Brian Kardon, Forrester Research's chief strategy and marketing officer. Forrester continues to tweak its model for Web-based content delivery. The company originally offered nine blogs, scrapped eight of them, and then launched two new ones, for a total of three that address blogging and search, digital home and media, and marketing.

The exchange of information between peers is perhaps the most effective way for IT professionals to gather useful decision-making data. As such, Forrester in 2003 launched its leadership board peer network, which comprises 554 members. The firm also lets clients vote through its Web site or write-in ballot for the content they'd like to see Forrester analysts produce. "The industry is at an inflection point," Kardon says. "Even the things that Forrester does today, I don't think are the things that will get us where we have to be in 10 years."

Yankee Group CEO Emily Nagle Green understands that her firm must make better use of the Web to deliver analysis, but Yankee is moving ahead much more slowly than Forrester. Yankee will relaunch its Web site this fall with an RSS engine for clients. Blogs are not on the road map. "We're not bloggers, although some employees are enthusiastic about them," Green says. "I'm not a big fan of blogs, and our clients aren't clamoring for them." Blogs are effective in disseminating information, and there are competitive pressures for Yankee to offer its own blogs, she adds, but ultimately blogs are becoming a dime a dozen. "To run a business, you have to build client relationships, not just get quoted online," she says.

Other firms have been quicker to adapt to the online model. In February, Burton Group debuted its Inflection Point site, which features both blogs and podcasts. "We don't want to hide our work behind a login," CEO Jamie Lewis says. "It's enlightened self-interest."

Nucleus Research opened its doors in 2000 to provide quantitative vendor information gleaned from interviews with end users. Vendors can't go to Nucleus and claim they should rank higher in the Magic Quadrant (Gartner) or Wave Report (Forrester), says Nucleus CEO Ian Campbell, who spent more than 10 years as an IDC analyst. "The ROI is what it is," he says. Although Campbell won't say how many clients Nucleus has, he does say that most of them are IT users rather than vendors.

Nucleus plans to begin offering podcasts midway through the year, and like Yankee's Green, Campbell isn't a fan of blogs. "They're an interesting phenomenon, but I'm not sure what the longevity is," he says. Campbell sees blogs as "a lot of people talking" and notes that writing blogs and managing the two-way interaction with readers are time consuming. Still, that hasn't stopped Nucleus from hatching plans to launch a blog later this year. The company, which has 12 analysts, also is looking at video on the Web as a channel, even live Webcasts that let viewers pose questions.

Vendor Clients Hurt Cred
Newcomer RedMonk uses the Web to distribute its expertise--the firm offers weekly podcasts and has a wiki--but it can't shake one of the oldest barriers to credibility: Most of RedMonk's revenue comes from IT vendors. "Frankly, we haven't achieved a high level of credibility among end users," partner O'Grady says. Vendors are more interested in RedMonk's perspective on complex issues and are more willing to pay for their market analysis. RedMonk has done product strategy consulting for Microsoft in the areas of systems management and shared source, helping the company understand the impact these initiatives will have on their customers.

Working closely with vendors puts analyst firms under suspicion that they're biased for or against certain products. "If we write an article that includes a number of vendors, we'll include a disclaimer about who is our client and who isn't," O'Grady says. "Transparency of our customer list is the key. If someone thinks we're biased, they can challenge us on one of our blogs."

Just like the tale of the lion with a thorn in its paw, Microsoft knows when to turn to the little guy.

This story was updated May 23.

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