During my 15 years in the marketing research business, I
developed a healthy respect for the power of data turned into information
turned into insights. I worked in Information Technology (IT) with ACNielsen
from the dawn of the business PC to the flowering of online Web applications.
You may know the Nielsen name from the Nielsen TV ratings folks, but I worked
for the part of the company that counts how many Cheerios people buy in
ACNielsen’s information is derived primarily from the laser-scanning checkouts you’re familiar with in grocery stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers. What is great about this type of information is that it is fact-based – a box of Tide or a six-pack of Coke is scanned at the point of purchase and forms the basis for information in huge databases that the major consumer packaged goods companies like Kraft, Gillette, and Procter & Gamble pay millions of dollars a year to access.
These companies are serious about these numbers because they represent the realities of the marketplace and are based in hard scanning data. They use this information to inform their decisions about everything from pricing and promotion to compensation for sales staffs and brand managers.
The consumer packaged goods industry is thus very sophisticated in its use of information to inform decisions and has been a pioneer in what is now called data mining. But while I worked at ACNielsen, I became very frustrated in the way that decisions were made in IT. Since the IT market research lacks a hard-data-based information source, most decisions were made by serendipitous processes. I used to joke that the way new technology came into the company was because somebody went to an IT trade show and got excited about something a vendor showed them. It was no joke, though; it was that random.
Sure, there are plenty of IT market research companies: the first rank Gartners, Forresters and the second rank Aberdeens, Yankee Groups, and Delphi Groups, and many more. But what these folks consider research I consider rumor and innuendo. The major way a typical IT market analyst gets his or her information is to call folks he or she knows in the industry and ask them what they think. (Actually, long ago there was a data-based research firm called DataQuest. The company estimated shipments of computers by stationing a spy outside the warehouses of computer manufacturers and counting the outgoing trucks! Gartner bought them in 1995.) These informants usually include the vendors of the technology, whom we can be sure are not in the least biased. Right?
Add to this less-than-rigorous data collection methodology the fact that most analysts have never used the technology they are expert in and you can see how the resulting insights can be less than accurate. In fact, go back and track the annual predictions the big research houses make at the beginning of each year and see how accurate they were, especially during the Internet bubble years. You’ll find these high-priced, so-called experts could have done better with a dart board and a magic 8-ball.
So it was a breath of fresh air when I started working with a client that is changing the rules of the IT research game.
Started by former Meta Group, Forrester Research and ACNielsen executives, Evalubase Research, Inc. is a market intelligence firm that continually gathers and analyzes the real-world experiences of IT users. Rather than presenting opinion and anecdotal evidence, Evalubase research enables IT users and decision-makers to track how IT solutions perform in the trenches among their peers.
What a great idea! Actually ask the users of a technology how it performs and what value it delivers! Evalubase’s Website (which I am responsible for developing) enables any consumer of IT technology (including you, gentle reader, who at the very least has experience with personal computers) to establish an account and within 5 to 10 minutes create a comprehensive evaluation of that technology. Hate a computer you bought? Evaluate it. Love the new Customer Relationship Management system you installed? Evaluate it. Since Evalubase’s customers include technology vendors, your voice can be heard.
The beauty part of the deal is that for just a single evaluation, you get a month’s free access to the Evalubase database in the category you evaluated. Non-subscribers only get summary level information, but if you’re planning a purchase, even that is way better than analyst innuendo.
Evalubase presents its information in two ways, via an integrated charting package and via an innovative IT Scorecard that compares an enterprise’s ratings with ratings from peers in the same industry, in the same geography, or with similar revenue or number of employees.
Evalubase is just getting started building its database of evaluations but already there are significant insights to be gleaned by its subscribers. And because I have inside information here, I can tell you there are plenty of innovations coming for its Website and methodology.
With the recent purchase of META Group by Gartner, the diversity of opinion in the IT market research industry has been reduced. There will probably be other consolidations of firms, and plenty of firms withered or died during the long post-Internet-Bust IT depression. I predict more and more IT consumers will de-emphasize the fuzzy math of analyst firms and turn to Evalubase’s empirical research for real-world advice from IT practitioners in the trenches.
- Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: It’s here: A wireless networking company called The WiMAX Guys. Our main business is new installs for people who want to set up wireless hotspots such as hotels, warehouses, apartment buildings, and office buildings or hotzones that cover cities. We also sell a knowledge-based Web portal called the MAX K-Base. Check out our main Website at www.TheWiMAXGuys.com. My wife created a bit of a stir when her oped piece was published in the Minneapolis StarTribune newspaper after the election. Her article, “Two Nations, Handcuffed Together,” has been commented on or linked to by more than 85 Websites. She’s now created a Website to capitalize on her newfound pundit status. Check it out at www.debellsworth.com. Coming At Some Point: A new eBook, Be On the Wave Or Under It™ will collect the best of SNS’ insights over the last couple of years, along with additional material from CTOMentor white papers and new material. It will make a great gift for associates and friends in need of a guide to the latest and greatest technology. Watch for more information in upcoming SNS issues. Several issues ago I debuted SNS Begware, an opportunity for you, gentle reader, to express your appreciation by tipping your server via PayPal. See the sidebar for more info. Total in the kitty so far: $86.48.
- The Raw File: SNS is dedicated to delivering the scoop on the latest and greatest. However, I collect lots of information that never makes it into the newsletter before it gets old. I’ve collected all this aging info into a page called The Raw File. This page is the raw information I gather for SNS articles. It’s not pretty, and some may be a little incoherent, but chances are there are still things in TRF that might be news to you. So therefore, use The Raw File at your own risk – it’s 45+ pages of the best stuff that didn’t make it into SNS. The Raw File
- Anti-Laser Contact Lenses: OK, the world is obviously getting weirder when we need to start to worry about errant lasers rendering us blind. But at least Air Force thinks there’s a need here. They solicited bids for a contact lens that “sits on the eye, the entire cornea and pupil are covered, so there is no chance of a reflection, or high angle incident beam, sneaking behind the LEP [Laser Eye Protection].” Thanks to Alert SNS Reader Andy Stevko for passing this along. DefenseTech.org
-Fi Hotspot: You can’t get much more mobile than the Magic Bike, “a mobile WiFi (wireless Internet) hotspot that gives free Internet connectivity wherever its ridden or parked.” I don't care how much I pay (Too much, Magic Bike) I wanna drive my bike to my PC each day (Too much, Magic Bike) I want it, I want it, I want it, I want it ... (You can't have it!) Magic Bike Mobile Wi
- Nannycams Gone Wild: You may be familiar with the concept of the nannycam. Parents place a surveillance camera in their homes that is accessible via the Web to keep track of how their day care providers are treating their little charges. The parents get piece of mind and the nannies get, well, their privacy invaded, I guess. Like many technologies, however, nannycams have unintended consequences: Many of the cameras are unsecured and anyone on the Internet with access to Google can find them and eavesdrop. What’s worse, once the parents return to the bosom of their families, they may be unaware that all their activities are also viewable by anyone, which could lead to some X-rated possibilities if the cameras cover private areas of the home. Don’t believe this is a problem? Try Googling "inurl:view/index.shtml" or "ViewerFrame?Mode=" or "MultiCameraFrame?Mode=, or ‘"powered by webcamXP" "Pro|Broadcast"’. You’ll turn up more than 3,000 Webcams, most of which will be unsecured. Of course, most are not nannycams – I particularly like this view of a construction site, for example – but even so, one wonders if the Webcam owners realize their cams are wide open to the Internet. Aside: This reminds me of a piece I did back in 2001 about the Surveillance Camera Players, a New York City performance art troupe that enacted odd little playlets in front of public surveillance cameras. But it isn’t just Webcams that are open to the Web. The Website I Hack Stuff lists hundreds of devices that are (mostly) inadvertently open to all comers, everything from printers to unprotected DSL routers. So who’s to blame for this huge security risk? Just like the problem with unsecured Wi-Fi access points, I lay the blame on the manufacturers, who ship their devices with security disabled. Of course they do this because most people can barely program their VCRs, let alone figure out how to access a secured Internet device. The answer is much easier configuration and increased education by manufacturers. Don’t hold your breath.