How Gartner Works

I attempted to summarize what Gartner’s Research unit does based on their own webpage. I failed. Check it out here.

So, the other day I was thinking about what Gartner actually does. In a former life as an IT drone we had a love/hate relationship with Gartner, which was really just whether we agreed with their assessments or not. IIRC, at the time they were recommending doing new development work in Visual Basic, now a discontinued language. We thought that was crazy, and it was, but I never bother to figure out why they were doing that. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Gartner watches what the beta geeks are doing. The alpha geeks have no need for Gartner, they figure stuff out. Beta geeks watch the alpha geeks, and usually can’t afford to buy Gartner. When the beta geeks start to embrace the stuff the alpha geeks are doing, it’s time for Gartner to write a report predicting that whatever technology is the aim of the report will start to gain in popularity and is a solid bet. (Because they’re predicting the past this is a good strategy for being correct.) The beta geeks have already validated them for this, but the readers of their reports are the gamma geeks (which strains the term ‘geek’) and that audience doesn’t deign to talk to the beta geeks and would have trouble communicating with the alpha geeks, who have already moved on to new technology by time Gartner delivers their report.

This has value to the middle managers of America. They benefit, Gartner benefits, the beta geeks benefit from some validation of what they’re doing. The only people who this hurts are the alpha geeks who work for the companies that buy the Gartner reports, as whatever they want to do is not recommended by Gartner. So, they quit and go work for companies who are not Gartner’s customers.

Overall, this isn’t an awful arrangement, and may even benefit the whole IT ecosystem. It is interesting to study their niche from an anthropology perspective.

Update: Bob Cringely has a perspective on Gartner.