The Hype cycle of Magic quadrants, Cool vendors and Confused clients

A review of Gartner & roundup of their recent Analytics Summit

It’s raining AI conferences these days. If you’re at a loss in deciding which one to attend and what to make of all the hype, you’re not alone. It takes serious effort to identify events that have meaty content, then separate marketing-speak from industry intelligence, and finally put the learnings to action.

I attended the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit in Orlando, earlier this month. With over 3000 people huddling together into 150+ sessions across 5 days, the energy levels were palpable. Throw-in exhibits from 111 vendors, workshops and one-on-ones with 100+ research analysts, this sounds crazier.

In this article, I will try and unravel this mystic ecosystem that Gartner has carefully built. We’ll see why buyers hold them in high regard, and what makes the sellers do anything to get featured in it. I will provide a broad overview of their analytics conference and the key industry trends discussed.

Gartner, for the uninitiated

Gartner is into research and advisory with a broad presence across technologies & industry verticals. With 15,000+ employees serving 12,000+ clients, not many realize that the company publishing ‘hype cycles’ and ‘magic quadrants’ is a $4 Billion giant, comparable in revenues to NASDAQ or Ferrari.

The 3 key business lines of Gartner, per its annual report are:

  • Research: The primary offering that accounts for ~75% of revenue, and encompasses all things cool about Gartner — magic quadrants, hype cycles, cool vendors, market guides, and research reports.
  • Consulting: This encompasses the customized solutions they provide their clients, on strategy, benchmarking and purchase decisions.
  • Events: 70+ conferences organized around the world, including popular ones such as Gartner Symposium/ITxpo and Gartner Analytics Summit.

While this in itself may not sound unusual, the way Gartner has woven all of these offerings together and created strong interdependencies with the market is remarkable. We’ll dive into that next to see what’s their superpower.

Gartner’s magical hold on the ecosystem

Research & content is the strategic asset that powers the Gartner engine. Analysts are visibly at the core of this system, aided by an army churning out the analysis and market research. The other two offerings of consulting and events ride on this and double up as channels to sell the research offerings.

The Gartner Engine

What turns the above standard business schematic into an efficient flywheel is the addition of buyers (enterprises that purchase software & services) and sellers (products, platforms and consulting players) into this picture.

Given the brand that Gartner has built, clients flock to them for advice on strategic technology decisions. They engage analysts to discuss issues that ail their businesses. They buy research reports and participate in their events to learn how to implement transformation programs.

Advisory at such a strategic level gives Gartner a huge influence on where the money gets spent. Gartner actively recommends vendors for clients to consider and also shares guidelines on how to evaluate them. That makes Gartner a force to reckon with, for the vendors.

Gartner and the Clients (such as Organizations buying analytics or other technology)

Gartner actively woos vendors promising them a sneak peek into what businesses really want. Vendors readily queue up for Gartner’s services to engage analysts and brief them on their own offerings. They pay to learn how to sell better, they buy the research reports and attend events to meet clients.

Getting into the mindshare of analysts increases the vendor’s chances of being featured in reports. Most marketing teams would kill for a mention in the magic quadrant. So, vendors vie for the spot by sharing their case studies, and client references.

Gartner, Clients and Vendors (such as Organizations selling tech products, platforms or services)

While clients and vendors pay to talk to Gartner, every such conversation also enriches Analysts with unique industry intelligence. This is assimilated and flows back into research reports and presentations as thought leadership, and is paid for by the same parties. Information is wealth and we can see how a smart recursive loop has been built into the system.

All this works in tandem because Gartner has secured the most prized asset, the network effect. As the market grows, Gartner’s stature only rises. This network effect is an entry barrier for new players, and it’s a winner takes all game, quite like the social networks of Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.

With all parties paying to get a slice of Gartner’s attention, there is a thin line that separates what’s fair from what constitutes a conflict of interest. While there are some dissenting voices, Gartner seems to be managing this well so far. Aggressive growth targets of any for-profit enterprise can be a distraction. Gartner has good credibility and how things pan out remains to be seen.

Insights from the Gartner summit in Orlando

People assembled for the Gartner Opening Keynote at Orlando

Now onto the recent Analytics summit at Orlando. With 8 tracks spanning all aspects of data — governance, engineering, visualization, machine learning, leadership, and strategy, there was something for everyone.

The big difference from all other events is that every session here is presented by Gartner Analysts, with the exception of vendor-sponsored talks, and guest keynotes. The sessions are quite like the Gartner research reports, well-packaged market summaries offering 30,000 feet views of the landscape and trends in the 2-5 year horizon.

With one of the highest vendor participation, the 100+ exhibits presented a good assortment of every data science product and platform the industry offers, all options under one roof. However, visitors ran the risk of hearing buzzwords of AI, Digital transformation and Insights repeated over and over!

Amongst several takeaways from the event, I’ve picked 3 for this article:

1. Willful Disruption: 7 digital disruptions you might not see coming

The 7 Digital Disruptions to watch out for (trends shown on the line, to the left; examples are on the right)

This session by Daryl Plummer was insightful and enjoyable. Businesses are disrupted all the time, and many of today’s giants will be unseated soon. This session laid out a framework for leaders to embrace willful disruption, to preempt the market forces. He covered 7 broad trends (see picture) that are expected to materialize in the mid-to-long term.

2. Digitopia 2035 — a peek into the future

Digitopia 2035 Trends: Will we soon rejoice in the ‘Joy Of Missing Out’, and splurge on privacy vacations?

Gartner launched the ‘Digitopia’ project last year, where volunteers from 25 countries contributed short stories on their view of life in 2035. Combining these stories on hope & aspirations with an extrapolation of digital trends, Frank Buytendijk took a stab at where the world is headed. Check this for some nuggets of insights, and how we can play a role as Pragmatic Futurists.

3. Creating a Culture of Innovation with Design sprints

Sketchnote of the session by Jake Knapp

Jake Knapp is the creator of design sprints and author of NYT best-selling book ‘Sprint’. From his days as a product designer of Encarta Encyclopaedia and a suite of products at Google, he showed how a new approach to innovation and rapid experimentation can help. It was fun to hear his high-energy, hilarious talk. Here are his website and a similar talk video.

Summary

On a closing note, the Gartner Summit provided a bird’s eye view of the data science landscape. The sessions demystified the latest buzz words with a long-term view of what’s coming. It was a good networking opportunity with data practitioners across the country, and with almost every vendor in the fray.

Having attended the event for a few years, I tend to agree with one of the attendees who had settled into a perfect rhythm of skipping the event every other year. His reasoning was that the biggest takeaways are the broad trends and they don’t change every year!

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