Small and midtier IT shops are eager for help from the technology analyst and research industry. Sadly, those research firms are so focused on the largest IT shops that they fail to see the small and midrange clients that could really use their help.
My small information technology shop does no in-house development of any scale, yet it has a multimillion-dollar budget and needs to support more than 400 employees and more than 30 locations. We are always looking for ways to make better decisions with limited resources. To help solve this dilemma, our institution would like to leverage the technology analyst and research industry better. Firms like Gartner, IDC, or Forrester are the big players in this industry, and all could provide value and assistance.
We have many high-dollar vendor relationships, and our in-house datacenters need constant care and feeding. Additionally, due to our size, we can't afford to have high-level specialists in any one area. Covering 80 percent of something is pretty good, and we need external resources to call on for the other 20 percent.
Typically, the vendors we call on have a vested interest in trying to sell us something, be that more equipment or more service. The problem with the research firms is that they seem to be geared for bigger IT shops. Much of their analysis is focused on the larger players in each industry. We have tried them, or tried to try -- in some cases, I got added to email lists, but I got no contact. The research and analysis is top notch, but we got a lot of "have your Architecture/Business Analysis/PMO/Vendor Management (etc.) group look into…" When we pressed on how to get more value, we got a similar response about making interaction with the group part of those "IT sub-departments' responsibilities."
Well, those roles are not only not a subunit within my IT shop, but they are typically just part of a staffer's already heavily multitasked job function. And the way these research firms are set up, you typically pay a set price ("priced right for my operation" could be equivalent to more than 10 percent of my staffing budget), regardless of how much you use them. Further, we don't have time to determine how best to use them, because we're too busy.
This is the Catch-22 of these research firms: They would probably be most helpful to IT groups like mine that need their resources and feedback, yet they work best with the largest IT shops, which already have people focused on research, planning, and analysis functions full-time. Those big shops likely need the analyst firm only as a sounding board for conclusions or negotiations that are already somewhat under control.
My goal now is to find something more appropriate for our smaller shop. More and more free resources are evolving -- things like LinkedIn groups or blogs like this -- but they still require a lot of searching and planning. Regardless, for a well-defined need, they are becoming more useful.
In addition, smaller or more niche firms like Info-Tech, Ovum, or Yankee Group may be good enough for what we need, even if they don't have the resources of some of the bigger firms. And it seems like their focus (and cost) can be scaled more appropriately to what we can use. We also feel that, with the money we save on not utilizing the big research firms, we have some capacity to utilize some very specific consulting engagements and still have money left over.
Ultimately, I need to be in a position where I deal with each issue case by case, rather than having one resource for all potential IT issues.
Bottom line: There is still no easy answer. As the CIO for a small IT shop, I have come to realize that getting unbiased input for IT decisions will never be easy, and in the long term, my direction may be to convince my corporation to allocate more staffing for these activities.
— Gary Kern is the CIO of a publicly traded financial services company in Muncie, Ind.