By Larry Greenemeier
Feb 6, 2006
Research firms make their living by offering expert advice to business
and technology people about the best ways to invest their IT dollars.
It can be invaluable insight, but only if that analysis comes with no
strings attached. And on that, there's no guarantee.
Forrester, Gartner, IDC, and others insist their output is squeaky
clean, yet they also rake in millions providing services to the very
same companies they monitor, heavyweights like Cisco, IBM, Microsoft,
and Oracle. Which leads to a question that continues to dog the
research firms: How much influence do technology vendors have over
At issue are business practices that beg for closer scrutiny. For
example, it's not uncommon for IT research firms to write reports that
are funded directly by tech vendors. Money changes hands, and the
vendor that commissions a report often reviews it before general
distribution. Microsoft's "Get The Facts" marketing campaign has made
liberal use of sponsored research to tout the benefits of Windows over
Linux. Such reports aren't always clearly marked as having a vendor's
backing. A 47-page white paper by Security Innovation, published in
November, mentions that it was funded by Microsoft at the bottom of
Analysts also show up in the marketing programs of the companies they
cover. IDC's Bob O'Donnell recently made an appearance in a video
produced by thin-client vendor Wyse Technology on the advantages of
thin-client computing. IDC also published a report, sponsored by Wyse,
that found the software and hardware costs of thin clients to be 40%
lower than PCs. Wyse, it turns out, is an IDC client.
And there are hard-to-prove grumblings among small vendors that they
have a better chance of being covered by a research firm if they are
paying clients. It's called pay-for-play, and it's an issue that the
overseers of Gartner's office of the ombudsman do their best to dispel
on their Weblog (ombudsman.blog.gartner.com).
InformationWeek went to senior executives of leading IT research and
advisory firms to ask how they're addressing questions of objectivity
and customer trust. Not surprisingly, all say they're committed to
delivering information services of the highest integrity. "We are
independent--that is not an issue at all," Gartner CEO Gene Hall says.
Maybe, but we also see troubling practices that continue to cast doubt
over their best intentions.
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