Caution, Apprehension, and Suspicion?

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Speaking of analysts/consultants, whatever comes from Redmonk ought to be taken with a level of caution, apprehension, and suspicion.” – Roy Schestowitz, Boycott Novell

Profoundly as I take exception to that statement, Roy and I might at least agree on one point: people should be skeptical of analysts. Much as they should bring a healthy skepticism to all of the sources they consider as input.

Particularly in an election year.

Regarding RedMonk specifically, this is hardly the first time this question has been raised. We’ve been asked about biases many times in the past, and I do not anticipate those questions being resolved as long as we are in this business, because consumers of research must, in my view, consider the source. That, in part, is why we include disclaimers on each piece of research we produce, which assists readers in determining which of the mentioned vendors support RedMonk commercially and which do not. The job of perceiving and detecting bias, then, is rendered a relatively simple task.

As I explained to InformationWeek reporter Larry Greenmeier in a now sadly unavailable piece discussing questions of analyst bias, we take the issue of analyst bias quite seriously:

When he interviewed me, Greenemeier asked whether or not being smaller and open rendered us immune to the types of the ethical and conflict of interest questions that they skewered the bigger firms for previously. My response was simple: not at all. If anything, we should be under more scrutiny since we unapologetically derive the vast majority of our revenue from the very vendors we analyze. How then, he asked, do you answer such questions – how do you inspire trust? By being open, I replied. Which is where blogs come in.

Unlike a research report that might be published behind a for pay firewall and thus be available only to a small subset of the technical community, our research is freely available to any and all comers. It can be and often is read and commented on widely, by those who agree and disagree with our positions and conclusions. In a transparent world, I asked, how long do you think we’d survive if we were nothing but shills for the firms that pay us?…We say what we like, and work only with firms that can respect that – turning down not insignificant volumes of business as a result.

RedMonk customers – Microsoft included – are frequently unhappy with our criticisms and research: just ask them. IBM was far from thrilled with James’ recent observations of their cloud strategy, Microsoft was at least mildly irritated with my analysis of their OSCON announcements, and so on. Which is not to argue that I few select datapoints may prove – nor disprove – our independence.

But Schestowitz, for his part, has offered up even less evidence. Essentially, Schestowitz would have us branded with a scarlet letter – S for sell-out, perhaps? – for the simple crime of agreeing to work with Microsoft. As he has, in the past, recommended that Raven Zachary of the 451 Group be similarly tarred and feathered because he had the temerity to actually visit the Redmond campus. Nowhere that I’m aware of does he point to an alleged example of said bias; it’s merely assumed because there is a disclosed financial relationship in place.

Which is his right, of course. While I have no respect for what is effectively fundamentalist position – or black/white as SJVN puts it – I do respect his right to hold it.

More, I welcome the oversight. With respect to Microsoft specifically, they have been sporadic RedMonk customers for much of our existence. If Schestowitz, or anyone else for that matter, can correlate the tone of our coverage of the firm with the time periods in which we were engaged financially, I would be most interested. Because while it is certainly not impossible for bias to creep up unaware, I am at present unaware of any such examples.

In the absence of such evidence, however, I would ask that readers bring only a natural skepticism to our past and future coverage, rather than an intrinsic assumption that working relationships with vendors must inevitably corrupt coverage.