In August I revisited a point I first made back in 2007, wondering how consulting companies selling pricey IT research would be impacted by the growing number of free advice alternatives, from informational blogs to general Internet searches. Add social channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to the mix, and the question gets even more interesting.
On my latest trip to my LinkedIn inbox, I found that several of my contacts had uploaded presentations on SlideShare. And of course, LinkedIn has an Answers feature that allows folks to ask and answer questions on a variety of business-oriented topics. The quality varies, but generally there are at least a couple of helpful responses to a given question and sometimes I am impressed by the detailed takes offered by responders. Obviously, many discussions continue in a less public forum. Some, though not all, surely result in deals where a responder is engaged and paid for his or her expertise.
I also see some pretty detailed questions about technology products and vendors on my Twitter feed. Again, I suspect some of those discussions get even more specific when folks exchange direct messages.
Deal Architect Vinnie Mirchandani offered what I thought was a nearly perfect take on the changing nature of the IT consulting business in a post from last week. He wrote:
In the '70s CIOs turned to IBM for advice, in the '80s to Accenture (Andersen), in the '90s to Gartner. In this decade they rely on each other-unbiased peer input.
The point was made in a larger discussion about consultant credibility, which Mirchandani opines comes under question when Gartner and other consultancies favor incumbent vendors longer than they should because of their "viability." (Of course, that's not to say organizations shouldn't worry about vendor viability. It's definitely an issue in nascent areas of technology such as cloud computing, as I wrote earlier this year.)
One of the comments following Mirchandani's post came from Sandeep Nalgundwar, whom I discovered through a quick Google search is founder of Bridge-X Technologies. Another quick search tells me Bridge-X sells software that helps SAP customers "bridge the chasm between transactional systems and analytical data warehouses." His comment, in part:
What we have seen is that our lead generation and in some cases even sales is driven by word of mouth -- our customers talking to other customers. As an IT solutions provider, that is way more important than featuring on any magic quadrant or report.
I think the opinion of peers has always been important. Social channels have sure made them easier to find. Twitter and LinkedIn won't put the Forresters and Gartners of the world out of business, but they will likely force a change in their traditional business models. Like newspapers, retailers and countless other companies before them, they'll be challenged to reinvent themselves in a world where information of all kinds is just a few clicks away.
Part of the answer, of course, is using Twitter and other social channels to help illustrate their value to customers and potential customers, at least partly by making analysts more accessible than they may have been in the past. In a blog post from March, I found these comments from Andrew Spender, Gartner's VP of corporate communications and the man tasked with managing the corporate Twitter account:
Briefly, we use Twitter to communicate with a broad range of people. This includes IT end-users, technology providers, journalists, bloggers, etc. It has become a very effective way of developing a direct, credible, authentic two-way relationship with people who have an interest in what we have to say about the business of technology. Twitter is a great way for anyone to engage directly with our analysts and we're always listening for feedback!