Aberdeen Group – guns for hire?
The Wall Street Journal today slammed into Aberdeen Group. In their article- Vendors Still Paying For IT Research That Flatters Them, the journalist exposes some practices that would make the most hardened analyst advocate blush with embarrassment about the state of the industry.
To put things into context, Aberdeen Group went bust in Europe largely due to a lack of trust – as the WSJ explains the perception of their reports was that:
If you saw an Aberdeen report saying that Acme MicroMacro sold world-class solutions, you could be sure that Acme had written Aberdeen a world-class check.
The AR world hoped that things changed when Harte-Hanks bought Aberdeen in 2006. However, reading some of the key points from the article today raises some interesting questions regarding just how much practices have moved on. These include:
The current Aberdeen comes up with a research topic, typically involving some new technology trend, and then approaches tech companies selling products associated with the trend. For what customers say is roughly $30,000 a company can become a report sponsor. Aberdeen, which wouldn’t discuss its fee, then sends questionnaires to tech users, asking about their current activities and future plans for the area in question. The reports are meant to be a snapshot of the marketplace and don’t mention specific companies.
The sponsors’ funding is fully disclosed. Sponsors have their logos on the report’s front page and are passed along with the contact information of everyone who downloads it.
All above board? I don’t think so. The conflict of interest is abundantly clear – with 212 sponsored reports published last year, according to the WSJ:
if much of your top line is dependent on getting tech companies to sponsor your research reports, you’ve got quite an incentive to design questionnaires that will yield the kind of reports tech vendors will want to sponsor.
This kind of article is not what the AR world needs. In an industry that is built on trust and in a market where technology buyers are confused and need advice regarding what they should do – the independence of analysts is critical. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Information Week asked this very question in their article: Do tech vendors wield influence over IT research? You bet–but how much of it is a matter of perspective?
I had hoped that we moved on from this debate. Some of the smaller firms (like Freeform Dynamics) rely on vendor cash to keep them going but this is perfectly transparent through their patronage model. The last thing we want is for this discussion to gain momentum and for practices to be questioned.
I hope the WSJ have got it wrong but I fear Aberdeen have chosen a quick path to easy money that may jeopardise the industry en masse – something that will force the AR industry a great amount of time and energy to fix.
Disclosure: one of my clients is TowerGroup
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