The Face of IT Research is Changing

Where do you get your research? For that matter who do you turn to for advice on technology? Your peers? Conference presentations? Do you have in house researchers to evaluate new technologies and methodologies?

When you are making a major outlay for new IT infrastructure how do you determine if you are getting a fair price and terms?

I ask these questions because the IT research industry is in a state of turmoil and although research analysts can be the undisputed experts in their own fields, the firms they work for do not understand their own space very well.

Every year or so, the power the major research firms have to sway purchasing decisions with their prognostications will give rise to controversy over their objectivity. As someone who has been at the center of some of that controversy, I would like to suggest the issue is not analyst objectivity but something else.

Objectivity is well served by most of the major firms: Forrester, Gartner, IDC, Ovum, etc. And in the case of the 450 boutique firms that Tekrati catalogs, it is easy to determine the perspective of most analysts — whether or not their statements are sponsored by a particular vendor.

The real issue is the viability of research firms — called into question by their failure to grow their revenue or to innovate. The IT research industry has been effectively Tasered by the Internet and the ability of search engines to plumb information provided by vendors and users alike on billions of technology websites.

The effect of this electric shock therapy was masked in part by the post-bubble down turn in IT spending. But that downturn has been over for two years and yet IT research firms have not returned to anything like healthy growth.

One survey indicates that only 20% of large companies in the U.S. are customers of the large research firms. That is a horrible penetration rate. It relegates Gartner, Forrester and IDC, et. al. to niche players in the information providing industry.

The Google Gaggle

Where are IT practitioners getting their advice? How are they making informed decisions? What is shaping the thoughts of IT users and buyers?

Google, Yahoo!, et. al. are not the answer. While search engines are a great filter to help one track down particular solutions or point you to a company website, it does not distill market information or open up the doors to proprietary research. However, Google is providing one key element of the information economy: Through Google Adwords it is now possible for an expert to generate revenue that is proportional to both their influence (as measured by page rank and hits) and their value.

That expert could be a hobbyist, an IT practitioner, a journalist at a large publishing firm, or an independent analyst. Adwords are just one way that dollars land in an expert’s lap of course, but they have created the disruption in the information economy exceeding $12 billion in annual revenue.

While techie consumer sites like boingboing, Om Malik’s GigaOm, and Tech Crunch get all of the attention, the IT savvy sites are also drawing their share of visitors and exerting an influence that is starting to compete directly with the expert advice offered by traditional IT analysts.

Read the frequent insights from James Governor at the RedMonk blog. He posts his vendor briefing notes live. Or Mike Rothman’s entertaining and, yes, insightful analysis at Read the actionable analysis at Technology Pundits. Or browse the 204 analyst blogs tracked by Tekrati. It should be no surprise that an old information industry is being impacted by a new one.

Will the IT research industry recover quickly enough from its Internet induced electric spasms? Or will “Research 2.0” be comprised of new players, new voices, and new thought leaders?

For now, read the blogs, listen to the podcasts, and even contact the independent analysts that you feel an affinity for. You may be tapping into the future of IT research.

Richard Stiennon is the chief marketing officer at Fortinet, a provider of multi-threat security systems. He is former vice president of Threat Research at Webroot Software and holder of Gartner’s Thought Leadership award for 2003.