By: Dr Neil Pollock, University of Edinburgh Business School
After several years’ research on industry analysts and IT Research firms there are some interesting conclusions to be reached on how industry analyst firms are exerting influence on IT vendors and their product markets. This is just a snapshot of some of Dr. Pollock’s findings.
1. Industry Analysts Stifle Novelty
The first point shows how industry analysts are one of the new ‘institutions of information technology’ with the cognitive authority to shape technological fields. One common way they do this is through proposing names and definitions for emerging technological trends, an activity with positive and negative consequences. We saw, for instance, how this could stifle innovation. IT vendors offering new kinds of products were penalised if their technologies did not conform to standard product definitions. We observed how one seemingly novel solution belonging to a newcomer received a critical review, which led to its rejection from a major procurement contest, effectively calling into question the robustness of its solution. The suggestion here is that industry analysts can help but also hinder innovation.
2. Varying Forms of Influence
The second point seeks to construct a ‘typology’ of the different kinds of prediction and assessment produced by industry analysts. We found there to be the naming interventions described above, which we have labelled as ‘infrastructural knowledge’, because they become institutionalized and exert an enduring influence on markets. There are also transitory forms of intervention, described as ‘visions let loose’, which are provocative signposts drawn up about the state and future development of the IT industry. ‘Statements and their world’ are rankings of vendor technologies, which have a strong but often contested influence on the market.
3. Changing the Market to Fit Their Tools
The third point relates to the construction of the major ranking – the Magic Quadrant. We found that in producing the ranking its authors will attempt to change aspects of the market to fit the tool (rather than the other way around). It appears that only a limited number of vendors can be ranked on a single Magic Quadrant (for reasons to do with clarity and parsimony), which presents problems for those areas where there are many vendors. Rather than come up with alternative means to capture vendors, however, its authors will divide up a market through introducing new nomenclatures, so as to handle the limitations of their ranking.
4) The Research Is Used But Not Believed
The final point attends to some of the limits of industry analysts research, with particular regard to the accountability and legitimation of their knowledge. The analysts’ assessments (such as the Magic Quadrant) were viewed critically on the grounds that analysts appeared not always to be independent of the vendors they were assessing. However, what we found was that the clients of industry analysts were not simply trusting of this kind of research. If anything, they were sophisticated and wary consumers. Despite this, however, the ranking was treated as ‘real’ and ‘consequential’ even though people knew it to be a simplified convention. This was a situation where the research was viewed sceptically but used in practice.
Dr. Pollock will be discussing his research findings in greater detail during the IIAR Forum on Thursday 27th Sept at 4pm BST when Forrester’s Chief Marketing Officer will also be present. This is an in-person event with webex facilities for those dialing in. If you would like to take part please email me asap. The event is free for IIAR members and non-members can pay £75 / $100 to attend the full session.