Monday, July 06, 2009

Industry Analyst as Prophet 2

Many religious prophets are characterized by their vision of a world to come; but also by their bitter criticism of contemporary society and its leaders, and by righteous anger. Beware the angry prophet writes Jim West about the prophet Elisha, who cursed those who mocked his baldness.

In my previous post Industry Analyst as Prophet, I described prophecy as a combination of forecasting and evangelism. But some forms of prophecy also contain a strong element of righteous anger. Alongside the well-coiffured industry analyst firms that take money from vendors, there are also bald sites that constantly attack the large vendors and document the smallest perceived deviation from the path of righteousness.

Seaching the Internet for "who pays for prophecy", I found a bitter denunciation of both Gartner and Microsoft (Another Hopeful ‘Prophecy’ From the Gartner Group’s Paying Clients) on a website whose agenda is evident in its name: Boycott Novell. Microsoft seems to attract more than its fair share of this kind of attention - see for example Slated Antitrust.

Anyone who bases their understanding of the software industry on angry websites like these is clearly an idiot. When my son had a school project on Genetic Modification recently, we found websites that praised Monsanto and websites that denounced Monsanto as evil; I explained to my son that he could (probably should) reference anything he found, as long as he didn't take any of it at face value. There are certain companies that everyone likes to hate: when I was a student it was Barclays Bank; when I started in the software industry it was IBM; nowadays it is Walmart and Monsanto and of course Microsoft.

Obviously the same should apply to software industry analysis. The analyst should take nothing at face value: whether vendor marketing materials, or snide off-the-record remarks from other vendors, or wholesale denunciation from the vendor's enemies. The CIO who wants to exercise due diligence on a software vendor may ask an analyst if there are any competitors who should also be considered, but may also ask (expecting the answer no, but better to be safe than sorry) if there is anything on any of the denunciation websites that deserves any attention.

Given that this kind of check is a very small concern of many CIOs, it is surely more efficient and effective for many firms to share the costs of a trusted analyst wading through all this prophetic material, which saves everyone else the trouble. Is that a reasonable business model for industry analysis? Does that help answer the question: why should anyone pay for prophecy?

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