Without question, we can all agree that there's been much ado of late about Gartner, AMR Research, and the whole industry-analyst business model (I confess to adding some fuel to the fire in this discussion). But perhaps the most important overlooked question in this whole debate is how companies are actually getting detailed information to make technology decisions these days. On many levels, the traditional role of deal influencer is shifting quite a bit from the analyst ecosystem of old to a new model, often led by consultants and advisers working with companies in a services capacity. In many cases, management consulting firms, SIs, outsourcers, and professional peer/networking groups are playing a larger role not only in how companies are learning about appropriate technology, but also in the final decisions they're making.
As one example, consider a colleague at a Big 5 firm with whom I speak on a regular basis. His Sourcing and Procurement consulting team -- not to mention other advisory practices spread throughout the firm outside the Strategy and Operations consulting team -- is often asked to recommend detailed solutions to clients. A more personal example involves a situation on which I'm currently working: I'm looking for detailed integration information on a specific area of Spend Management technology on behalf of a client for a potential project. The level of detail I need could only come from a technology implementer who has worked with half-a-dozen different systems over the course of hundreds of implementations -- a level of depth that neither traditional analysts nor I can begin to touch.
Simply put, I increasingly believe that, while it can be useful to read content such as Spend Matters or subscribe to research services from firms like AMR Research and Forrester, publishing- and advisory-led models are becoming less relevant when it comes to how decisions are actually made in the field. Increasingly, companies are coming to prioritize true in-depth knowledge that can only be had from those who work with the tools on a regular basis (versus those who pontificate about them). Granted, it can be helpful to have a more macro-level view about how specific solutions can fit into a specific technology portfolio, and how a vendor stacks up against the competition, but I believe that traditional industry-analyst models will become less relevant when it comes to selecting, deploying, integrating, and managing an increasingly complex and interconnected set of third- party (and internal) technologies and content.
Given this, if you're a practitioner and you're not already working with a consulting firm or advisor whom you trust to get into a particular level of detail on technology questions (e.g., not just who has what feature/functions in a particular area, but how a particular technology will integrate within an existing environment), I'd recommend finding someone you can trust who works in the trenches on a regular basis. Employ them to supplement any research or advisory services to which you already subscribe (and what you read on Spend Matters for free). If you're in an analyst-relations role on the vendor or solution-provider side of the equation, I'd think long and hard about how influence is changing in this market. For example, consider briefing and getting to know the consultants, outsourcers, and SIs who are becoming more involved in advising clients in these areas, even diverting "research" budgets from existing programs to simply getting out in the field and meeting with those who don't want to take your money, but do want to know what you have to offer.