A Glimpse into Peer Connect
Every AR person knows that many of the most influential analysts in the information technology industry work at Gartner. But analysts are not the most influential influencers out there, peers are – IT buyers and practitioners most trust the insights of other IT buyers and practitioners who have been through similar buying and implementation processes. The historical blockades to peer-to-peer exchange, however, have been (a) finding qualified peers and (b) providing a safe harbor for peers that prefer to remain anonymous in order
Some influence management thinkers have recently opined that, on the back of social media, Gartner and other top industry analyst firms could be rendered obsolete by “peer networks” or “expert networks.” In fact, already several quasi-analyst and analyst entities are heavily using the digital networking-centric approach, most notably Focus and Wikibon. And other top tier analyst firms like IDC and Forrester have tapped into the community network effect, for example see IDC Insights Community.
Gartner, however, isn’t so easily leapfrogged. Witness Gartner’s Peer Connect, a tool available only to Gartner for IT Leaders customers offering a private, peer-to-peer information exchange environment, beyond the reach of vendors and consultants. Even Gartner’s own analysts cannot participate directly, though they may introduce topics of discussion.
Peer Connect leverages Gartner’s ability to tap into a plethora of qualified IT peers out of its existing customer base – at no additional cost to its IT customers. Gartner has dealt with the privacy concerns of some of the IT peers by offering an anonymous self-profiling option that still exposes industry, company size, job role, vendor experience, plus past and current projects. Thus, a Peer Connect user could search for a peer with a profile that matches “enterprise architect in healthcare with revenues over $250m currently or recently involved in an Oracle CRM project.” Once an appropriate match is found, the resulting interchange may be conducted email-to-email if both parties are not anonymous, but if either party wants to remain anonymous the interchange takes place through protected digital collaboration where the email addresses are blocked.
Gartner doesn’t hard-sell Peer Connect. There is a modicum of marketing collateral for Peer Connect on Gartner.com, and it is buried in the general concept of Peer Networking. The Gartner IT salesperson may certainly discuss Peer Connect during the sales process, but Peer Connect isn’t a prospecting feature – Gartner still leads with its research and analysts. The Peer Connect community is entirely self-selecting; there is no pressure for a Gartner for IT Leaders customer to join the Peer Connect community.
The genesis of Peer Connect goes back to 2006 when Gartner IT end-user surveys revealed the desire of Gartner’s IT customers to directly share each others’ experience and expertise. Specifically, users wanted to exchange tactical experience, and to obtain help answering detailed questions that an analyst would not typically be expected to answer. The initial Peer Connect rolled out during 2007 giving IT customers an exchange mechanism with which to register, profile themselves and to list projects they worked on – and to search for those individuals that could answer specific questions. Since then Gartner has constantly enhanced Peer Connect, adding what we now refer to as social media features, and has improved the search, profiling and security aspects. Peer Connect has not only been popular with Gartner’s IT users, it has also driven research topics for the IT Leaders platform.
What does this mean to an Influence Management or Analyst Relations professional? In a B2B community like enterprise IT, peer communities provide a layer of insulation for actual IT practitioners beyond advertising, blogs, research, media and other 3rd party opinions. Like Gartner, vendors should consider embracing the concept of peer networks by giving customers and prospects direct access to one-another without interference by the vendor. Vendor-oriented user groups have been around for decades, and are the progenitors to peer networks. Perhaps the most notable example is IBM Share which goes all the way back to 1955 (!). The vendor’s attitude should be to support, facilitate and where it can, without being intrusive, learn from these groups – but providing a safe harbor for honest exchange and sharing of best practices counts as the primary goal.
What of other research and analyst firms that use a similar approach? To me there is quite a difference between “expert networks” and “peer-to-peer” simply because “experts” are difficult to qualify. How does an expert receive the title of “expert?” Is it self-proclaimed? Is there a hidden agenda to sell the “expertise?” Are “experts” blessed by some 3rd party “expert of experts” who in fact has little expertise in any particular area of IT?
As suggested by the Enterprise IT Influence Mountain at the top, IT people trust other IT people first and foremost. A tip of the hat goes to Gartner who understands that IT expertise doesn’t begin and end with analysts, and for providing a safe harbor of exchange for its IT customers, helping overcome the “east of access” hurdle that typically limits sharing between peers.