Category Archives: Community & Analysts

Posts that describe and discuss the value and use of social and analyst content

is there IT guidance without bias?

In the post titled community vs. the analysts I wrote about how I believed IT organizations use social and analyst content.  It’s relatively easy to explain why companies use content from both these sources, however when looking for guidance or answers to IT business questions is there anywhere where an unbiased advice can be found?

Everyone has a list of favorite and disliked vendors and products. A bad experience with a product can taint a vendors reputation and that of their entire portfolio. However, in the world of enterprise computing a bias doesn’t have to be related to a product and can be created because of poor support, poor service or a bad sales engagement.  As an analyst it was common to hear something I’d recommend came under attack just because the client had a historical problem with one of the product or vendors options given.  So IT bias can be towards anything, hardware, software, a vendor, a product, an approach, an organization, a best practice, or even a set standards. So where do you go if you are seeking advice with no bias? The obvious answer is the analyst community but is it possible to be truly unbiased?

opsleuth - bias

There’s no such thing as unbiased IT opinion. 

Analyst companies claim to provide opinion with no bias, social communities opinion is fueled by bias and vendors have an obvious bias. All have bias it’s just that some is out in the open and some is hidden. Vendors and social communities do little to disguise bias whereas analysts do everything they can to hide it.

Analyst bias can take many forms. Analyst firms are not equal – there are very large ‘tier 1′ companies and there are ‘tier 2′ or ’boutique’/'specialist’ companies. For IT operations management tier2 analyst firms their revenue primarily comes from vendors. Beyond basic research services this can take many forms, including paid for product endorsements or sponsoring primary research. This shows blatant bias and few would consider this type of content as more than just interesting.

Tier 1 analyst firms deny any form of bias and as corporations may not overly exhibit any however, they need to demonstrate a complete grasp of the market and this means establishing thought leadership to help to mold how markets are viewed and addressed. This typically results in the creation of best practices, methodologies, terminology and models.  Any vendor wishing to be taken seriously and be positioned correctly must conform to how the analyst company defines and articulates the market.  If they don’t then they risk being described and positioned in a way that may not be to their liking and this will emerge in research, presentations and client engagements.

Bias is normal and should be expected so when it comes to evaluating and understanding content the bias must be factored into your thinking. Vendor content is designed to show their products in the best light, social community bias is driven by the content providers which explains the diversity and analyst company research contains bias based on their belief systems and the individual analyst experience.  As a result analyst research should be taken at face value with the assumption that it’s based on a neutral standpoint supported by facts. Analysts are tweeting and starting to emerge in social communities unshackled from their editorial processes and less policed and protected by their logo.  So when evaluate analyst content with that found in social communities and vendor web sites then I would recommend the following;

1. Understand how each analyst company defines the market and positions the vendors (even if you don’t agree)

2. Read multiple reports written by the analyst to understand their position on a number of related research papers (look for themes/consistencies)

3. Be aware of the analysts history (the author’s resume)

4. Search for the analyst comments in social media (e.g. tweets, facebook, linkedin, blogs)

5. Compare the analyst research with competing analyst firm research to get a different perspective

crowd sourcing and the self-sufficient digital native

Screen shot 2013-01-08 at 1.40.27 PMIT savvy is no longer the exclusive domain of the IT organization. IT plays a pivotal role in many end users day-to-day activity and is as natural as breathing in and out.  Digital natives entering the market has led to the creation of a new type of IT user, one where self-sufficiency has become a way of life. Social IT activity rarely includes a support organization ready to leap to your aid in times of trouble instead the user relies on support found from using search engines, blogs, on-line documentation and through social collaboration.  When the IT savvy digital native enters the job market their ability to deal with (or at least attempt to deal with) IT issues (e.g. connectivity, access or file sharing) is significantly greater when compared with people entering the market only a decade ago.

Working with digital natives I find them to be more self-sufficient and believe IT problems can be solved faster if they are given the ability to do it themselves.  This emerging environment ‘should’ create changes into how users are enabled and supported. For example; if the end user is more self sufficient then service management tools should provide a lot more than a hotline support number. Service management tools could be enhanced with self help, intelligent search, automated recovery and importantly, crowd sourced information. Crowd sourced information could allow users to understand how IT is being experienced by their colleagues while also helping the IT support organization understand end user experience and aid root cause analysis.  This capability is especially important with applications sourced from diverse locations and the prolific use of mobile devices.  The reality is; a service desk has no clue where you are and what you are doing so when problems occur it’s just the beginning. The only view of IT service and what’s really being experienced can be attained from the end user and increasingly, by the end user. All this information is collected, analyzed and delivered without a single communication with a datacenter.

Crowd sourced application experience data provides a far greater understanding of overall end user status easier and with far less complexity, cost and effort than any traditional datacenter centric IT management tool. Of course, it does not give the deep-dive information many APM tools provide but in this case it’s not just about application availability (e.g. downrightnow.com) it’s about helping the end user become more productive and self sufficient.

This is not something found in IT operations management today, however the concept has been used in other types of applications (e.g. waze and GPS navigation) where crowd-sourced data provides work-arounds and options. For road navigation it could advise taking an alternative route due to an accident, for IT it could be to use an alternative printer or avoid using a mobile device in an area where performance is being impacted.

What I have described is a future state so for the time-being digital natives are going to continue to find ways to support themselves – no matter if it’s for their own personal needs or those provided by their employers.

community vs. the analysts

opsleuth commentWill there ever be a time when collaborative, organized social community content relegates the analyst research to just another set of input where the quality of community content is of equal or greater value than that provided by analysts? After all, analysts are not trained as analysts before they are hired. Most were IT professionals in IT organizations and vendors. However, putting on a leading analyst company badge transforms a person from someone with an opinion to someone who is paid to advise and guide IT executives on technology and business decisions. I do believe in the value of analyst information however I also believe there are many social community contributors who have equally valid or better credentials to provide similar or better guidance or advice.

So what is it going to take for these two information sources to be treated equally?  The main problem is social community content is in many locations with many contributors. Boiling down social data can be a mammoth effort resulting in no definitive answer.  Analyst companies typically take a position on any specific subject with limited alternative views. So even though the community continues to influence IT decisions, most executives will still take direction from the paid analyst services and it is analyst company input and research that will be referenced to create vendor shortlists, justify investments and used to support project proposals/decisions.

The following table compares social community and analyst content, influence and contribution.

Content  (comments, white papers etc) is where most of the differentiation occurs. Social content can vary wildly (structure, format, quality, terminology) which can make the job of finding specific answers/statements on subjects difficult. Analyst content typically conforms to a standard format making information easier to find (also helped by a lot less content).

Content Update Frequency (how often new content is released). Social content is released and updated and commented on every second of every day and takes many forms blogs, tweets, community site comments etc. Analyst content is released in chunks (~15-30 papers per year per analyst) and if you subscribe to their services you may also get access to the analyst through scheduled phone calls or email. As change in the IT industry occurs at an increasingly alarming rate the social community will respond immediately whereas the only way to get an immediate view from an analyst will require a phone call or email (or hope they keep their blog up-to-date).

Content Output Types (content deliver methods). Social content is delivered in every form possible (tweets, blogs, mail, video etc) while analyst content has historically been in three forms (blogs, research documents and presentations).  However a change is happening in the analyst community with some analysts having their own blogs and starting to participate in social site conversations. Giving away any detail, no matter how abstract, is a problem for analyst firms who associate every word uttered by their analysts with a costed value. It’s a balance of giving away ‘just enough’ to entice readers and followers to their pay to play services.

Content Inputs (feedback, comments)  Social content is, err social. Blog entries, tweets etc all allow/promote feedback and general comments. A blog entry may create a conversation stream where the content is augmented or create a debate spawning alternative views and opinions. This type of real-time content is very healthy as it allows the reader to make their own assumptions based on how information is described, promoted, defended or dismissed.  This social interaction is rarely embraced by analyst firms. Analyst content is not up for debate – it is their position and if you dare have another one – you are wrong.  I always smile when I hear someone say “I am going to get the analyst to change their mind”.  Analyst companies may ask for input to aid their research, however they do not seek alternative views for their output.

Bias (prejudice in favor of something which maybe considered unfair). Social content bias can be found everywhere and it’s usually blindingly obvious. Arguably everyone has a view (bias) and if a social site or individual has similar views and beliefs to yours then you are more likely to follow them, read their blogs, view their videos and buy their books. Following someone who you rarely agree with becomes too frustrating and only the young have the time (and energy) to continally argue in public forums.  There is an IT myth: Analysts don’t have bias.  They do because analysts are human. The bias doesn’t have to be towards a vendor or product but towards a belief system or a hidden agenda or goal. Understanding an analysts ‘preference’ may not be easy to find as it will be hidden beneath a thick layer of impartiality.

Cost. Social content is free. Analyst content isn’t.

Decision to Participate (who chooses IT market information sources). Anyone can choose to be in a social community only companies choose to use analyst services.

Decision strength (the contents influence and ‘weight’). Social content can be taken into consideration when making an IT decision but it is rarely used to justify an investment or make a change. Social content is used to influence and build awareness. Analyst content is often used to prove a point, show a trend, justify an investment or identify IT purchase options.

Content Ownership and References (identifying content authors, contributors and references). Social content can be tracked to the author, content providers etc. Few would expect to build credibility by including “a big New York bank told me…” to support their point.  The social community want names and addresses and if you cannot provide them then your comments are dismissed.  The analyst community often use generic, non-specific references to give their research and assumptions credibility and weight. Whether the reference is real or not is something protected by ‘client confidentiality’  - so we are left to take their word for it.

Followers/Subscribers.  Social communities can have many thousands of readers and contributors spread across hundreds of community sites. There are only a few analyst companies that can claim 1000′s of subscribers.

Content Update Awareness. The speed new information is delivered drives how often followers/subscribers visit the community sites. Leading social sites are visited very frequently, daily in most cases with update alerts delivered through social messaging. Social sites are not standalone entities and can reference other sites creating a social content web.  Analyst content updates are far less frequent resulting in subscribers visiting the site only when an email alert is sent or when a project or decision requires analyst content.

Confidentiality. IT organizations seeking generic, non-specific information can find usually find something in community sites. The problem is that many company IT challenges are confidential and require a high-degree of confidentiality. When this is the case the social environment is hardly the place to air your company’s business problems. Analyst companies protect their client confidentiality allowing highly-confidential issues to be discussed and addressed.

So what does all this mean?

Basically there is far more content in social communities, updated in real-time, used on a very frequent basis, anyone can participate and it’s free. Analyst content is delivered far slower, used when needed and it’s high cost.  Social content is used as reference with little privacy resulting in it being used as information providing peripheral advice and guidance that influences IT decisions. Analyst content and interaction is protected with client confidentiality agreements and is used to justify and make decisions.

For social communities to start having an impact on business analyst services requires a number of changes. Social sites will need to focus more, filter their content better and provide ways to protect privacy.  This is not what most were designed to do and I’d argue it would take the edge off the value they provide.   So, the time has not yet arrived where analyst firms are under threat from the social community – there is simply too much diverse content and no confidentiality. Companies want guidance, advice and answers to specific questions. They do not  have the time to read and filter a mountain of conflicting information. However, social sites such as servicesphere.com have already attracted a very large and loyal following due to the quality of the content, the ways the information is delivered (and made consumable), the credibility of key contributors and the relevance of the material.

Analyst firms are aware of the content tsunami on the horizon that will start to erode their core research values. Analysts are already starting to be seen outside the strict confines of their employers websites providing opinions without charging for them. This will continue to be a challenge as they try to balance what to give away and what not to.  The art form appears to be saying just enough to create interest and then direct followers and readers to the costed content.

Another change that may occur soon is that companies will see the need to search, filter and analyze social content making it useable to aid business decisions.  Today, companies have people focused on PR (Public Relations) and AR (Analyst Relations). Maybe to embrace and leverage the wealth of content in the social community will require companies to also invest in SR (Social Relations).