Friday Rant: Gartner's End-User Shield Can Only Deflect So Much

In a response to my post from earlier this week titled Gartner: Abandon Blog, Debbie Wilson saw fit to challenge some of my arguments noting that what has kept the midnight oil burning and prevented her from blogging as much as she would like is the "boatload of inquiries from end user clients that are interested in procurement technologies such as spend analysis, strategic sourcing, e-procurement and contract management". Debbie also suggested that I was wrong in my post in regards to suggesting that the Gartner compensation / bonus models encourage consulting and speaking days with vendors. And then she challenged the Spend Matters model and how I spend my time in a follow-up comment (which she's not let me respond to yet on her blog, a point that I'll get to in a minute).

Debbie also made a swipe at blogs that prioritize quantity over "quality" in her words. And as a final point, she notes that "while I clearly welcome open discussion of the market and of needs in the blogsphere, what I value most for input into my research is the private conversations I have day in and day out with end users". Hmmm ... dissecting her post and subsequent comments for a moment, it would appear Debbie is trying to distance the "end-user" driven research agenda that Gartner works on from other models. But let me get back to this later in my column.

I tried to respond to Debbie with a follow-up comment at 11:14 AM CST yesterday, but as of last night at 10:25 PM CST, she did not let my response get past moderation so I'll reprint it below. But before I do, it's worth noting that I find it curious that my first comment on Debbie's blog was approved in minutes, but this one was left hanging for 12 hours and counting. Alas, perhaps this is a good metaphor for the traditional analyst top-down opaque model, but I won't go there. Here was my comment:

Debbie,

Let me answer both your response and then your question.

1) If this is the case, I do stand corrected [regarding compensation models of analysts]. However, it did not use to be this way (I'm waiting for some calls I have into those close to the Gartner organization at this time to find out specific compensation incentives in the new model -- (base and bonus) -- and I will retract my statement if things have changed. Moreover, I would still suggest that there's a significant inherent challenge of having your largest clients as vendors (e.g., SAP/Oracle/MSFT) but still claiming to serve the practitioners first. This fact alone makes hiding behind the end-user argument a bit difficult for me to swallow.

2) In regards to Spend Matters, you're absolutely right that we eat what we kill. However, if I'm not viewed as objective, the blog would completely lose influence and readers would throw me under the bus by being able to comment on everything we say. We have no brand to stand behind other than our own and Spend Matters would not be where it is today without the level of transparency it provides. Also, you'll be pleased to know that an increasing percentage of my time, specifically, and revenue is coming from advisory time with practitioners.

I'd still contend at the end of the day that Spend Matters is far more transparent than firms that do not make client disclosures (you can see my client disclosures on the blog). Also, if you or your readers are interested on this subject in more depth, see two related posts:

Friday Rant: Do We Need a Thicker Skin

Frida Rant: Of Waves, Quandrants and Vendor Comparisons

Thanks,
Jason

So from Debbie's response to my comments, should we believe that the analyst model is changing and that Gartner is going back to its original end-user roots (from decades ago)? Perhaps, yes. Perhaps, no. But to me the more important question is whether or not the Gartner research model is as effective and transparent as it could be. Like Gartner, I spend a tremendous amount of time talking and meeting with end-users (not to mention consultants who implement technology and consult on process change and strategy). But the difference with independent firms and Gartner is that I'm not limited in just talking to clients. In my case, I actually spend far greater portions of time talking to non-clients on the practitioner side (who, in fact, represent a far broader cross section of the market). In fact, as of Thursday AM this week, I had taken three calls from practitioners who were not clients and that I had not yet spoken to before in an advisory capacity. But I took the calls because I wanted to trade thoughts with them on the on upcoming decisions they were making. In contrast, the Gartner model does not allow for these interactions.

In addition, I still maintain that vendor influence in certain areas at Gartner is overt from the largest vendors (versus smaller ones). After all, if my sources are correct (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong), SAP and Oracle are larger than any of their non-vendor clients. And these vendors tend to have a disproportionate showing -- recently and historically -- in quadrants versus the actual reality of how they stack up in the market (not to mention actual adoption and usage). In addition, I have heard from multiple smaller and middle-sized providers that Gartner won't give them the time of day unless they become research clients or until they hire Gartner to come on-site and advise them. Sure, they make the occasional report or two, but there's a difference between keeping up appearances and a sincere commitment to covering and getting to know the broader market.

At the end of the day -- and at the end of this rant -- I believe the more things that Gartner claims to have changed, the more things stay the same. In my view, there is an inherent problem from primarily interacting with -- and profiting primarily from -- larger providers and user clients, but not a broader section of the market that is not paying you (for either influence or advice). This is not a problem with Debbie or her research. Rather, it's further proof to me that traditional analyst models can handicap the quality of the individuals working at the firms.

In my role, I am lucky enough to have the freedom to talk and spend time with anyone I wish -- client and non-client, practitioner and non-practitioner. And if readers have a problem with what I have to say, they can either challenge it or change the dial entirely. At larger analyst firms, individuals often lack the time, flexibility and transparency to pursue a similar agenda, spending their working hours with anyone they please regardless of commercial or non-commercial affiliation. And that's why, at least in my view, the traditional analyst model is on the decline (except in the case of outstanding individual analysts who have built brands for themselves and their teams that transcend the broader firm).

Increasingly, I believe companies will turn to other sources -- including fellow practitioners directly, blogs, management consultants, benchmarking firms, and others -- in addition to consulting traditional analyst channels for technology, service provider and outsourcing advice. In fact, I see this happening everyday -- with the exception of AMR Research -- and large-firm analyst influence declining in general in the procurement and supply chain areas (especially when IT is not driving the buying decision). Because after all, if the analyst buck stops with paying end users (and vendors), then we might as well toss in the ven

dor selection towel right now and start drinking the Gartner punch, letting end-users sip first, but making sure the mixture is funded and spiked by you know who ...

Jason Busch

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