Of the many IT analyst firms out there, few cast as wide and long a shadow as Gartner, in particular the firm’s infamous magic quadrant: By neatly dividing the world’s vendors into four categories (from the best-of-the-best Leaders down to the also-ran Niches), the company has made it easy for IT professionals to sort through marketing hype while narrowing down their list of companies to consider for their mission critical infrastructure. And each year, on cue, when vendors don’t end up in the quadrant they want, new claims of bias, kickbacks and flawed methodology are lodged.
Most of that criticism pales in comparison, however, to the bad blood that apparently flowed between Gartner and IBM in the 80s, as recounted by now-departed Gartner founder Gideon Gartner.
A Sordid tale in Three+ Parts
The early giant of IT advisory has apparently decided to air grievances from early on in his company’s history, which has provided for some fascinating inside-baseball in what always proves to be a controversial field. For starters, a lot of IT professionals are fairly skeptical of how unbiased and accurate analyst firms can be: Many of the smaller shops, for instance, write up sponsored white papers outlining strategies that align (or even rely on) the sponsoring vendor’s technology. In essence, technically useful (hopefully) advertorial.
The largest firms avoid this pay-to-play practice, but much of their income comes from “advising” the tech giants on how to build out their products, while at the same time advising purchasers on what technology is gaining an edge. Do payments from one end influence recommendations on the other? It’s doubtful, but an appearance of conflicts of interest clouds the public perception.
To complicate things further, it’s not uncommon for individuals to jump from being employed by a vendor, an analyst firm, and a trade publication, depending on their qualifications and interests, meaning the person advising you on what wireless networking equipment to buy might have used to work for the vendor they’re now recommending – or even worse, might be eyeing a job there the next opportunity they get.
Gideon, however, faced an entirely different problem: He was formerly an executive at IBM, then the 800-lb. IT gorilla, and now his former company was stomping mad, trying to clampdown on roadmap leaks while worried that competitors had an “inside man” leaking information.
Gideon’s recounting of the drama reads like a corporate espionage spy novel: Illicit “Top Secret” notes stapled to papers, codenames, vague legal threats:
On September 20 another IBM executive, Don Otis, called me. He said IBM was watching O.A. “like a hawk”, and we had to watch our step as well! Don also criticized one of our recent client communications “suggesting” certain specifics of IBM’s build plan and its backlog. I didn’t know what Don was talking about, and responded that he must know that leaks from IBM salespeople were rampant, often “shooting their mouths off to IBM’s large accounts”.
The accusations, insinuations, and counter-proposals have spanned three posts (so far), and provide an interesting look into how IBM wielded its power at its height. Read the full series and let me know what you think.