Is the influence of Gartner, IDC and Forrester on CIOs waning?
Market Analysis

Is the influence of Gartner, IDC and Forrester on CIOs waning?

‘Pay to play’ was the accusation from network software vendor NetScout of analyst house Gartner back in 2014.

The tech company believed that its low placement in Gartner’s magic quadrant in March 2014 had proven that Gartner was “not independent, objective or unbiased” and that “its business model was extortionate by its very nature”. Essentially, it alleged that the three companies that received better placements in the quadrant were substantial spenders with Gartner.  

The case took a number of years in pre-trial processes, with Netscout claiming that the Magic Quadrant placing harmed its enterprise sales. Then in September this year, Gartner’s request to dismiss the case was granted in its entirety.

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In a stern statement, the company said it wasn’t “pay for play”.

“Influence over research content or the amount of research coverage focused on any vendor, sector or topic is not, and has never been, for sale by Gartner. Period,” Gartner said.

Similarly, Matthew Guarini, VP, research director at rival analyst firm Forrester tells IDG Connect that his company “follows a strict and transparent process that reflects the decision criteria typically used by our clients” and that analyst objectivity is one of Forrester’s “core corporate values”.

But there’s no doubt that despite the case being dropped, analyst firms have had their reputations tarnished.

Even now, CIOs have some scepticism about analyst processes.

“I’ve heard in the past that you can buy your way into Gartner’s Magic Quadrant,” says Claudette Jones, CIO of the University of West Scotland (UWS).

Even moving away from this ‘pay to play’ notion, there is a common consensus among many CIOs that analyst firms’ influence has waned in the last decade when it comes to IT procurement.

“Ten years ago, I relied on analyst firms almost exclusively and if I was about to take on a new project or look at a vendor I would go to an analyst – so I relied on Gartner and worked with IDC quite frequently,” suggests Graeme Hackland, CIO at Williams F1 Team.

Now, Hackland says that CIOs prefer to build and use a peer network instead.

But that doesn’t mean that IT leaders don’t refer to analyst content at all; David Ivell, CIO of charity the Prince’s Trust, says it is still important to use analyst content as a ‘horizon scan’, and Metro Bank CIO Martyn Atkinson says that while analyst reports give IT leaders a decent cohort of options to review, they don’t necessarily inform decisions. 

Atkinson says that the company is looking for a behavioural analytics platform and it did look at the Magic Quadrant and spoke to a company within it.

“You don’t want to blindly follow it, you want to trust your judgement and conversations you’re having locally but equally there are certain things you need to achieve, so from an API perspective, we knew we needed something lightweight that we could really integrate and scale – we wanted something that wasn’t just going to be cloud-based, and actually it helps with some of these boxes being ticked, so it’s a useful reference point and a good first point of call, but it absolutely doesn’t inform every single decision we make from a tech perspective,” he explains.

For some companies, it’s about weighing up whether a subscription to an analyst firm is worth it.

Laura Meyer, CIO of publisher HarperCollins, says the likes of Gartner are “too expensive to subscribe to”, and adds that analyst companies aren’t as important now because there is so much other information available freely online.

This has been expanded further through use of social media and Ivell says that now everyone with a mobile phone can be a ‘reporter’ of information.

“Twitter is amazing, if you join the right groups in terms of changes in tech there are a whole world of reporters out there rather than just those going through the traditional channels,” he adds.

Information can also be gleaned from previous colleagues. Meyer explains that she keeps in contact with colleagues from Time Warner and frequently has conversations about what they’ve been doing and who they’ve been working with.

And events are also increasingly more relevant to CIOs – and not just enterprise technology conferences.

“Going to the likes of CES in January and seeing the technologies that are being prototyped and seeing how consumers are reacting gives me more than a subscription to Gartner,” says Ivell.

It must be noted that analyst firms do hold events of their own which remain popular with the CIO community.


Getting the right fit

UWS’ CIO Jones suggests that the Gartner Quadrant itself can be quite generic, and that it focuses on which system to pick rather than the way the system fits into the IT environment.

“You have to do it in a certain way, use guidelines, change processes, and make it customer friendly – so it’s not so much a choice about the systems, it’s more about the way you use it,” she says.

But analyst firms don’t just rely on ranking lists and reviews. Forrester’s Guarini says that research firms have changed the way they operate and think, focusing more on the changes driven by customers and new technologies.

He says that Forrester has produced research that follows the execution steps of core initiatives like digital transformation.

“[Using this] CIOs can tap not only into the right insights at the right time, but also how the insights and advice aligns to the respective stage of maturity these CIOs find themselves in,” he states.

But even then, it’s hard for the analyst firms to cater specifically for any one company – and often the criteria that they’re using to rank vendors on may not align with the organization’s own criteria, as Daniel Ball, director at Wax Digital explains.

“Analysts like Gartner tend to value scale and international capabilities very highly for example, as these are important to their large enterprise customer community, but they may not be relevant – indeed they may be the opposite of what you want – if you are a smaller regional business looking for domain expertise based nearby,” he says.

Metro Bank’s Atkinson says this cultural alignment is critical.

“Even if we look at the Gartner Magic Quadrant, we have to make sure we’re setting the right cultural alignment, and that the vendor operates and behaves and wants to partner with us. We definitely don’t see some of our relationships as transactions and paying for services, they have to buy-in to partnering with us and making sure they give us the service performance necessary,” he states.

“Most of the vendors we’ve chosen do this and we’ve managed to smoke out the ones that don’t through the selection process,” he adds.

Analyst firms still play an important role in the IT procurement process, but it is clear that their influence is diminishing because of the vast amount of data, sources and information available to CIOs, and the increasing importance of a peer network and of high quality events.


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Sooraj Shah

Sooraj Shah is a freelance technology journalist whose key focus is on how IT leaders are transforming their organisations using emerging technology. 

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