A conversation with Thomas Otter, Gartner analyst and blogger

While away, I briefly saw some comment about Gartner's latest foray into the blogging world. Past efforts have been abysmal but this latest attempt looks much more promising.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

While away, I briefly saw some comment about Gartner's latest foray into the blogging world. Past efforts have been abysmal but this latest attempt looks much more promising. Carter Lusher at SageCircle interviewed Andrew Spender, Gartner’s VP of Corporate Communications, via email. The answers were somewhat stilted in my opinion.

I turned to Thomas Otter, a fairly recently minted Gartnerian and previously a SAPper with whom I have always enjoyed intellectual jousting matches inside the Irregular Google group. Thomas has long maintained a public presence at Vendorprisey, the place where I first learned about Majority Desk, the SAP/Wiimote mashup that wowed attendees at SAP TechEd 2007.

In recent times, Thomas has switched focus to his other great passion, cycling. Most recently, his blog has strayed into the world of IP lawyering. With that in mind, I thought I'd get Thomas's thoughts on all things Gartner while leveraging his knowledge of this tricky area. My questions are in itialics.

Gartner seems to have let the analysts out to blog at their discretion. Andrew Spender seemed to labor the point about individual points of view so what's in it for the firm?

I think in the long term it's about connecting Gartner with a wider audience and it's about increasing informed dialog between Gartner analysts and the community. It's a broader outreach initiative.

What's in it for you?

Many analysts like to communicate with a broader audience and especially peers within the industry. It gives me a chance to float ideas, concepts and thoughts that may not necessarily fit in with a formal research agenda. It allows me to put a face to myself beyond the formal output. A big part of this job is listening and blogs have big ears.

You're pretty comfortable with the blog metaphor but what direction do you think you might take on this occasion?

My personal blog won't die and I think they won't be mutually exclusive. But on Gartner, I'll talk about my day to day life as a start so people get a better insight into what it means to be an analyst. A big part is to point to other stuff I find that might be interesting. Andrew McAfee at Harvard is a great role model for this and I hope to follow his example.

You are good friends with Jim Holincheck. Do you think you guys will riff on one another? What about others?

We've already done a lot of stuff together and we're in a major Magic Quadrant project covering employee performance management. It would be premature to surface information in this format while we go through the process but we may be more revealing further down the line.

Do you see it as useful to present alternative viewpoints from within the same firm? This is something the Irregulars do and we feel it adds to the richness of discussion.

A major part internally is peer review so blog channels are a good way of helping form those opinions.

I'm starting to see the analyst community become more edgy in the way it talks about vendors and technology trends. Do you see the blog as an opportunity to express those kinds of view where they may not otherwise work in the highly moderated world of Gartner research?

This is a new world for Gartner and we're in the very early stages so it will be a learning curve for everybody. Let's see how it develops. I don't think Gartner is afraid of controversy but as the blogs adapt and as people find their voice we'll see how it goes. The main thing is to develop a transparent way of communicating and creating conversations.

What's hot in human capital management that we should be looking for in your blog?

Tele-management is rocking. Most CEO's face the problem of hiring and retaining the best people so from a tech perspective, there are many areas that are seeing interesting innovations. The top players are growing at 100%.

I know our mutual friend Jason Corsello believes the saas delivery model for areas like talent management holds a lot of potential. What other areas would you class as ripe for the saas treatment?

Good evidence in the e-recruitment space. We reckon 76% is delivered as saas so already the dominant platform in the recruitment space. Compensation and performance management are also showing tremendous growth. there are still tremendous challenges around integration. Flextronics (Workday) and Wachovia (SuccessFactors) show this is no longer an SMB niche but a market that extends up to the big enterprises.

IP - a big issue. I'm a recent convert to the open source Kool-Aid but how hard do you think it will be for the large enterprise vendors to integrate open source licensing into their offerings?

This is not really part of my research but I have an interest at a personal level in copyright and the law. There are experiments going on at many vendors. IBM, Adobe and Sun for instance are making open source a big part of their vendor strategy. Even so, it's a difficult problem for all vendors. It hangs by the thread of copyright but it has a clear role to play.

Can the passions of those who love this stuff be tamed to the satisfaction of corporate lawyers and IT departments?

Open source isn't going to replace traditional software any time soon but it is a valid model. Look at Sun and Adobe who have adapted very well and Workday has made a good job of working it out and still delivering commercial product.

Some of us think that the almost routine plagiarism and stealing of content - especially images - is storing up a backlash of problems that will ripple into the corporate tech space. Given the growing IP concerns in this area, what, broadly, do you think needs to be done?

Copyright has its positives and its negatives.  It's like the faultline between the analog and digital worlds. There are failings on both sides of the fence and this is a topic in need of help. It is tough to find solutions and I'd rather not pre-empt where the law is likely to go. We're all beginners in the digital age.

To give a flavor of Thomas's thinking, here's an extract from a post about copyright with the beguiling title George, David and the Demo:

Celebrities also make use of copyright and other laws  to protect their image, and to earn their crust(s). When David Beckham advertises a razor, or a pair of sunglasses, the company using that image has coughed up big money for the pleasure thereof. Mr Beckham’s advisors think long and hard whether a particular product fits with his image.

Nestle paid handsomely for Mr Clooney to sip Nespresso.  And there is a mass of law, and troops of lawyers to defend Mr Beckham’s and Mr Clooney’s  rights to their images. Joe citizen has certain rights, but celebrity image rights is big business.

Here  is the link to Thomas's Gartner blog.

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