Finding things to charge for -- that's what will be hard for IT analyst firms. This is already the case. More IT users and vendors are self-publishing and sharing as much of the relevant knowledge for their audiences as they can, all openly available globally via a quick word search. The ability for savvy users to find, evaluate and rank useable knowledge will rapidly become yet more automated and effective. And so on.
Does it then make sense to pay for pricey annual subscriptions to access an analysis firm's findings that, when the stodgy documents arrive two months after the market moves, are no better than what an RSS reader, Google search, and iTunes can give you on the same subjects within hours of a meaningful event in IT? And the openly available, nearly real-time knowledge is nicely vetted by the meritocracy of the blogosphere and through a global peer-review process that can't be beat.
As a former IT industry analyst for some leading firms, and as a former editor and reporter for some leading IT publications, I can assure you that community-driven IT blogs of today -- open to broad and immediate comment and criticism -- are far more highly reviewed and vetted by more experts on the subject than any analyst report or trade publication news story. That keeps the bloggers diligent, and relegates the less-than-useful self-publishers to the ether.
Accordingly, my new business stake is to help show IT vendors and users how to better self-publish real knowledge, how to exploit the new delivery tools and combine them with age-old lessons of good, trusted communications to solidify their impact within their own communities. I'd rather sell shovels. This community-incubated knowledge, incidentally, is the basis for new viral marketing that brings together buys and sellers, sharers of knowledge, better than any display ad or analyst's endorsement ever could.
After all, if anyone is going to charge for the knowledge about IT use, why shouldn't it be the developers and distributors of the code? Why should an analyst be a middleman, taking a cut of a knowledge product vigorish? The knowledge is available, directly from the sellers as well as other users. If those sellers and users are open with their information, they are vetted too, by their communities. The rip offs artists will not thrive for long in an open, knowledge-commerce-based IT ecology. The rip off artists can only take refuge by hiding behind ivory towers, trying to get the credibility to rub off on them. Whether the gatekeepers to those towers acknowledge them, or pretend not to, they are part of the credibility distribution process. Indeed, they profit from it.
So companies like Gartner will increasingly be competing against the IT vendors in the knowledge bazaar, while trying to charge all comers for the privilege. It can't last because Gartner sells IT consulting, just like HP, IBM, Accenture, and an increasing share of open source firms. If you give away the code, monetize around the support, consulting, and knowledge -- of course. That means on the consulting side, at least, Gartner competes with more vendors to a deeper degree over time. I expect Gartner's future is in serving IT users directly on increasingly IBM-like activities, but no longer taking revenue from the vendors. Most analyst firms don't have the option of not taking revenue from the vendors.
So if traditional analysts firms no longer have a significant advantage on publishing insights into IT market events, thanks to blogging and the open knowledge economy, and the largest of them begin to compete for dispensing IT execution consulting, advice and support to IT buyers only, then what's left? Influencing, also known as pay-for-play, shilling, and whoring.
And even that is under pressure. For example, a vendor executive recently told me that big-firm analysts don't tell him anything he doesn't know about his own market. They are not influencing him. He is seeking influence from them, aimed at getting more buyers to know about or use his products. And that is something that self-publishing and viral marketing can do increasingly well, credibly and objectively.
On a similar note, an enterprise buyer recently told me that he throws out 90% of what vendors tell him. He's cynical on vendor-produced messaging of any kind. And he's also suspect about vendor-sponsored research. SO he;s not easily influenced anymore. Been there, done that. He tends now to believe what he reads on blogs by fellow IT users -- in blogs that are vetted by being open and commented on by anyone.
Put these two together and both the IT vendor and buyer get an increasingly higher share of influence, nay knowledge, from going direct to their user communities, where they can access valuable and vetted information without much need for an industry analyst.