The Tip of the Spear
So I caught an interesting Horses for Sources blog post via Twitter — Phil Fersht of HfS called out a blog post of ISG’s Stanton Jones discussing the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Managed Hosting that I published earlier this year.
Stanton Jones’s argument seems to be that analysts sit in ivory towers, theorizing about suppliers, and making broad general statements about the market, whereas sourcing consultants actually get down and dirty with clients who are buying stuff. He says, “Analyst research is not at the tip of the spear, where buying and selling is actually occurring.”
However, that’s not actually true at the end-user-focused research firms like Gartner and Forrester. As an analyst at Gartner, I can do over a thousand one-on-one (or one-on-client-team) interactions in a single year. Each of those interactions represents a client who is considering what to buy (or build), and then going through the procurement cycle. They’re short-listing vendors, writing RFPs, wanting to discuss RFP responses, negotiating contracts and prices. It is absolutely the tip of the spear, and critically, over the long term, you also get feedback from the client as to the success of their initiative, so you’re hopefully not throwing out advice that turns out to fail in the real world.
So yes, something like a Magic Quadrant provides broad, generic advice (although I do try to orient my advice towards specific use cases). But that’s all that written research can get you. However, nearly every Gartner client buys access to inquiry, so that they can get those one-on-one, freewheeling entirely-custom interactions — so they can say, this is my exact situation, and get to Stanton Jones’s “I’m a multinational company who wants a company that can support a transformational infrastructure sourcing initiative” and ask which of these vendors I’d recommend.
By the way, if a client asked that question, I’d tell them, “You don’t want a managed hoster for this. Try discussing this with our strategic sourcing analysts, or with our data center outsourcing analysts.” (And it’s not improbable that this would be caught at the level of our client services organization, which would look at that question and say, gosh, this doesn’t sound like managed hosting, maybe you’d like these other pieces of more appropriate research and a discussion with these other analysts instead. For negotiating that kind of deal, by the way, Gartner has a consulting division that can do it; analysts don’t do the kind of work they, or a competitor like TPI, do.)
One more note: If I published in an MQ the feedback, good bad and ugly, that I’ve gotten from clients using service providers “on the ground”, I would never ever actually be able to get the research out, because it would undoubtedly be caught in a zillion Ombudsman escalations from the vendors. But if you talk to me on an inquiry, I might very well tell you, “In the last six months, every customer I have talked to of Vendor X has been unhappy, which represents a big swing in their historical quality of customer service,” or even “Customers who use Vendor X for Use Case A are happy, but those who have Use Case B think they lack sufficient expertise with the technology”. Client inquiry volume at a big research house like Gartner gets you enough anecdotal data points to show you trends. Clients want the ground truth; that’s part of what they’re paying an analyst firm for.