Friday, July 03, 2009

Industry Analysis by Survey

@pgiblett @chrisdpotts @seabird20 @

Following a recent poll of 900 CIOs, Gartner concludes "IT Spending Outlook Still Uncertain". Peter B. Giblett adds "... not necessarily recession related".

Chris Potts comments: "CIOs need to actively resist being cast as primarily interested in IT spending" and adds a hint to CIOs: "If a research organisation asks you how much your company is spending on IT, ask 'why does that matter?'". Chris Bird suggests that a more interesting question would be "What value are you delivering?". Chris Potts then adds a further question: "Which corporate strategy are you leading?"

Excellent questions Chris-and-Chris, but we know that surveys like these generally restrict themselves to asking numerical and multiple-choice questions, because the answers can then be "analysed" using simple Excel. As ChrisB points out, most of the hard numbers (?!) analysis is around purchasing.

The question "Why does that matter?" prompts the question "To whom does that matter?" So who cares about IT spending? Why would a CIO care what percentage of her peers are spending what amount on a given buzzword? Safety in numbers?

Perhaps, as ChrisB suggests, the people most interested in quantifying IT spend are the vendors and investors. But they can't learn much from an unqualified total figure. What they really need is a detailed breakdown, based on a consistent method of cost accounting, and they are not going to get that from surveys like these.

The problem is not just lack of detail, but lack of reliability. As ChrisB points out, people don't always tell the truth. Some CIOs may deliberately distort their answers, while others may simply guess the numbers in order to get the researcher off their backs.

In my opinion, then, the correct retort to "how much do you spend?" is "what meaningful conclusions can you possibly draw from whatever number I give you?"

Related post: Received Opinion (January 2005)

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