How Industry Analysts Shape the Digital Future
Industry analysts are in the business of shaping the technological and economic future. They attempt to 'predict' what will become the next big thing; to spot new emerging trends and paradigms; to decide which hi-tech products will win out over others and to figure out which technology vendors can deliver on their promises. In just a few short years, they have developed a surprising degree of authority over technological innovation. Yet we know very little, if anything about them.
This book seeks to explain how this was achieved and on what this authority rests. Who are the experts who increasingly command the attention of vendor and user communities? What is the nature of this new form of technical and business knowledge? How Industry Analysts Shape the Digital Future offers the first book length study into this rarely scrutinized form of business expertise.
Contributions to this volume show how, from a small group of mainly North American players which arose in the 1970s, Gartner Inc. has emerged as clear leader of a $6 billion industry that involves several hundred firms worldwide. Through interviews and observation of Gartner Inc. and other industry analyst firms, the book explores how these firms create their predictions, market classifications and rankings, as well as with how these outputs are assessed and consumed.
The book asks why many social scientists have ignored the proliferation of these new forms of management and technical expertise. In some cases scholars have 'deflated' this kind of business acumen, portraying it as arbitrary knowledge whose methods and content do not deserve enquiry. The valuable exception here has been the path-breaking work on the 'performativity' of economic, financial or accounting knowledge. Drawing upon recent performativity arguments, the book argues the case for a Sociology of Business Knowledge.
Conforming or Transforming? How Organisations Respond to Multiple Rankings
The dominant theme within extant research on performance and ranking conceptualises the organisational response to a ranking as one where it responds by conforming to the measure. This process of straightforward ‘reactivity’ (Espeland and Sauder 2007), however, is not always possible, especially in the complex and rapidly-changing settings described in this paper. In certain contexts organisations are surrounded by multiple measures, raising the question as to which they should align.
Drawing on an ethnographic study across a number of sites, we show how some organisations instead of conforming to a single measure are ‘transforming’ to respond to the challenge of multiple rankings, by constructing and elaborating new forms of expertise, knowledge and connection with rankers.
Unlike prior research that presents organisations as constrained by systems of measuring (which we name ‘reactive conformance’), we examine how they are becoming more proactive towards this challenge (described as ‘reflexive transformation’). Specifically, building on themes from accounting and the sociology of worth, we present evidence that organisations exercise greater choice than expected about which rankings they respond to, shape their ranked positions, as well as wield influence over assessment criteria and the wider evaluative ecosystem.
Give Me a Two-by-Two Matrix and I Will Create the Market: Rankings, Graphic Visualisations and Sociomateriality
Scholars have described how rankings can be consequential for the shaping of the economy. The prevailing argument is that they wield influence through encouraging ‘mechanisms of reactivity’ amongst market actors. We ask the question as to whether there are additional agential aspects found within rankings that extend ‘social’ accounts. We suggest that ‘sociomateriality’ is also a significant aspect of a ranking’s influence. Through developing the notion of a ‘ranking device’, we examine how the “format and furniture” of a ranking can mediate and constitute a domain.
Drawing on a detailed study of a prominent graphical performance measure from within the information technology (IT) arena, we provide evidence to show that IT markets can be as much a product of the affordances and constraints of ranking devices as any other (non-material) aspects of the ranking. The article integrates literature from Accounting research and Science and Technology Studies to contribute to our understanding of how material things and the economy mutually constitute one another. It also offers one of the first empirical accounts of the sociomaterial construction of a graphical ranking.
Industry Analysts – How to Conceptualise the Distinctive New Forms of IT Market Expertise?
The purpose of this paper is to explore conceptual issues arising in an empirical study of the emergence of a distinctive new form of expertise – of industry analysts and in particular the leading firm Gartner Group that exercises enormous influence over the Information Technology (IT) market.
The Venues of High Tech Prediction: Presenting the Future at Industry Analyst Conferences
This paper attempts to understand the apparent paradox that although industry analyst information technology (IT) predictions often turn out to be ‘wrong’, there appears no obvious decline in the number of predic- tions made, the appetite for this kind of knowledge, or the standing of those producing this kind of insight. This begs the following questions: How do industry analysts come up with predictions? Who or what is involved in their shaping? How do they establish their efficacy? How do they and others evaluate these predictions? And what value do they have for those who consume them?
We have been able to examine these issues empirically through ethnographic study of one of the key interfaces between the production and consumption of predictions: the industry analyst conference. In departing from studies that foreground its ‘accuracy’, we describe how this knowledge is subject to more plural methods of evaluation and accountability concerning its utility. We show how industry analysts gauge the utility of their knowledge through interacting with and provoking reactions from conference audiences.
We analyse these interactions not simply as a means to socialise this knowledge but as a space for the simultaneous production and validation of predictions and the role of the audience as offering a new form of ‘public proof’. We also describe how these conferences have led to a reshaping of the kinds of experts and expertise involved in producing and communicating this knowledge. Our material is based on interviews with a number of industry analysts and observations of the conferences of the leading industry analyst firm Gartner Inc.
Who Decides the Shape of Product Markets? The Knowledge Institutions that Name and Categorise New Technologies
We consider naming and categorization practises within the information technology (IT) arena. In particular, with how certain terminologies are able to colonise wide areas of activity and endure for relatively long periods of time, despite the diversity and incremental evolution of individual technical instances. This raises the question as to who decides whether or not a particular vendor technology is part of a product category. Who decides the boundaries around a technology nomenclature? Existing Information Systems scholarship has tended to present terminologies as shaped by wide communities of players but this does not capture how particular kinds of knowledge institutions have emerged in recent year to police the confines of technological fields.
The paper follows the work of one such group of experts—the industry analyst firm Gartner Inc.—and discusses their current and past role in the evolution of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. We show how they make regular (but not always successful) ‘naming interventions’ within the IT domain and how they attempt to regulate the boundaries that they and others have created through episodes of ‘categorisation work’. These experts not only attempt to exercise control over a terminology but also the interpretation of that name.
Our arguments are informed by ethnographic observations carried out on the eve of the contemporary CRM boom and interviews conducted more recently as part of an ongoing investigation into industry analysts. The paper bridges a number of disparate bodies of literature from Information Systems, Economic Sociology, the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, and Science and Technology Studies.