What's the story behind the numbers?

When you think about what really makes the IT research model work, it has consistently been the leadership of one or two people with unique visions who have managed to translate that vision to an entire organisation.

To create a brand for the research company that extends a central vision to every analyst is a challenge, but not without precedent. Being King or Queen of the Internet telcos, services, software or hardware "experts" is a challenge for all analysts, but the alternative is to become just another publisher of reports, that no one has time to read.

"We're at the heart of the market," analysts keep telling us.

Corporations today rely on IT research firms for advice on a broad range of technological products, architectures and approaches. Investment firm analysts who follow the market most commonly name the leading players of board based IT to the investment world. But now we also have dozens of other organisations that provide research in more specific technology areas and many groups that focus tightly on subjects like outsourcing, system integration and e-commerce, or track emerging trends.

No time to learn

Part of the problem the IT research industry faces is that the current "experts" only have a few years experience at best. A newly hired "senior" analyst paraded out at a recent press conference was a case in point. Her chief credentials were that she had attempted to launch a magazine - and failed. To speak with her is to remember that, when it comes to new technologies, nobody really knows what they're doing, yet; even the "experts" are novices.

For many years now information technology has been having an increasing impact on the economies of all industrialised countries, including Australia. It has also impacted practically on all industries either directly, through the introduction of new IT goods and services or indirectly through the impact of IT goods and services on production processes.

Given this, it is somewhat surprising that nowhere in the world has any IT research organisation developed a sound statistical framework for the compilation of IT statistics.

Accepted framework

This lack of official statistical indicators though, has not prevented the journalists, policy analysts and the like talking and writing continually about the IT industry's size and growth with their numbers gleaned from a wide range of sources.

Users and commentators have freely swapped from one definition or concept to another. Whatever their concept, however, there have been in general no "official" global statistics to help them in their endeavors.

Most of the research companies have their share of optimists and pessimists, but most of them are as objective as possible and pride themselves in providing useful insights to their clients. Of course "useful" is relative. Shooting down market projections and hence someone's justification for existence, may not qualify.

However, overhyping industries or promoting industries to make vendors/clients happy was never part of the agenda!

Analysts do need honest input from vendors for more accurate forecasts. Analysts with less experience are sometimes more easily swayed by the raft of vendor "dog and pony" shows.

Market research can be a valuable tool and serves as a barometer of the industry. But today successful companies with visionary leaders don't rely on it.

Brutal honesty

One of the issues for the analysts is to say what they believe in and not worry about causing problems with their clients.

Most vendors are addicts for research, brand positioning, marketshare, target segmentation, awareness tracking and buying processes statistics.

Lately I can't pick up a phone without a research analyst at the other end wanting to take me through their/latest and greatest landmark study. It's as if their PR people have learned that the only way sales reps can get a foot in the front door is if they're packing a "landmark" study. It doesn't matter at all whether it offers any breakthroughs!

If a report sprouts enough numbers and mumbo jumbo, the chances are that no-one will complain when the research has no useful conclusions.

"This IT research business is a hell of a racket," a subscriber commented recently. "Imagine, people pay big money today to hear what's going to happen tomorrow, and even if, the research is wrong they can't take it back!"

Pick of the bunch

The common tread connecting most IT research firms is a dedication to providing industry research and analysis, market and trend forecasting, and technology/vendor recommendations for clients.

Where they differ radically is with forecasting methodologies, market and technology definitions, scope of operations, target audience and supplemental services.

Now I'm not against research, and as a marketeer it's hard not to like research. A marketeer in a crunch today can, thanks to the Internet, throw together a plan with little more than a couple of computer runs. But bad planners can also hide behind the research.

If marketeers only goes by the numbers it means they don't understand anything about the product they are selling and don't know the position of the various market segments.

Certainly IT research firms aren't perfect in their forecasting capabilities and industry knowledge, but they're an increasingly valuable resource in an increasingly technology-driven marketplace.

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