Whew … here we go again

Who expected Gartner to be back on the acquisition trail so soon? But today’s announcement that they’ve acquired Burton Group, when the ink on the AMR acquisition is still drying, changes the picture. It’s a done deal; this isn’t “to be completed”.

What I said then:

“Most importantly and most clearly, Gartner have decided they needed to acquire expertise in supply chain research where AMR are an acknowledged leader. This doesn’t look like a deal to buy up the competition, as the META Group acquisition was late in 2005.”

And this deal is out of the same stable. When Gartner bought META, one of the best things they acquired was the Enterprise Architecture Service with analysts of the calibre of Brian Burke. It melded into Gartner’s own architecture offering, after a year or so, and lost the edge that the META service had had. And what are Burton? By origin an Architecture specialist.

As it’s turned out, Gartner have emphasised that AMR will remain quasi-independent – for the time being, at least. Will they do this with Burton too, or is it too close to a core element of their IT service that they must attempt to integrate more fully? Well, as it happens, Gartner have an AR call tomorrow (Jan 7th). I was already booked. We’ll report back.

Clients – look at my AMR posting (link below) and begin to work on your action plan. Watch this space!

• Gartner Acquires Burton Group, Gartner press release, 5 Jan 2010
• AMR clients: action needed!, ITasITis, 1 Dec 2009
• Burton Group (their own announcement is currently in the home page)
You might like to compare the phrasing of AMR’s announcement (which has moved: the link in my December posting no longer works)

‘s no joke …

Friends from overseas may realise the UK is in the grip of its severest winter for something like thirty years. Not much by some of your standards, even so. But for us these are perhaps twice-in-a-lifetime events, so there’s little sense in investing in lots of heavyweight equipment just for it to stand idle and deteriorate before it’s ever used in anger. There’s the awful warning of the rail network, last time round, which invested in a snowblower and found it wasn’t the right equipment for our rather wet brand of snow.

Well, this is an IT column and I want to share that I’ve discovered for real, today, how easy it is for the wheels to drop off the ICT-enabled bandwagon. We had a power cut around 6 a.m. with nothing back till mid-day. Here’s a list of some things I couldn’t do.

  • Make phone calls from my desk phone (no power-off fallback capability)
  • Receive voicemails on my desk phone (requires power for the answering machine)
  • Use my main computer
  • Connect my laptop to the internet (it had a full charge, but the broadband modem and WiFi station requires power)
  • Connect my laptop to the internet (I have the modem, and the phone line was ok, but the dial-up numbers which I haven’t used for years were trapped on a file in a desktop machine I couldn’t power on. They’re on the laptop now!!)
  • See my work schedule for the day (it’s on the desktop hard disk, though my appointments were ok, see below)
  • Read email (see: Connect my laptop to the internet)
  • Work on any of my projects (all files are on the desktop machine, and Apple’s Time Machine may be brilliant but the backup drive requires power,  so having a working laptop didn’t help)

Here’s a few things I could do:

  • Make calls on my mobile phone (until the battery ran out) – my whole address book is on there so that’s ok
  • Make and receive calls on the home landline (once I’d reconnected the spare un-powered old-fashioned non-answering-machine phone)
  • Check my calendar (which is replicated onto my mobile)
  • Update my Facebook status (I set up the text-message link only yesterday!)
  • File a few papers
  • Catch up some backlog reading (but on a dull day the light wasn’t really adequate)
  • Remember it’s Twelfth Night, and take down the Christmas decorations.

Guess which of these things I actually did? Best wishes for 2010.

Gartner for hunters and farmers

One reasonably easy prediction for 2010 is that user enterprises will start to see Gartner making increasing reference to their new “Market Clock” tool, announced in September last year. Like the Hype Cycle, Gartner are promoting the Market Clock as a methodology to support IT investment and, in this case, disinvestment* decisions.

* Side note: Gartner use the word “divestment” but that’s a mistake on their part. Divestment means selling something off to someone who values it more than you do. Disinvestment means withdrawing funding, in this case of an IT asset or service.

The Market Clock is frankly acknowledged to be a statement of something which CFOs have known for a long time: that a business investment has a finite life and that managers need to know when to get out, as well as when to buy in. What Gartner have done is to provide a framework through which this philosophy can be explicitly and systematically applied to IT. A statement of the obvious it may be, but Gartner are skilled at stating the obvious in a way that stimulates IT management to apply it – and that’s far from being a negative criticism!

The Market Clock, then, attempts to represent the market life of an IT asset in four stages which Gartner call (a) customised, (b) mass-customised, (c) commoditised and (d) disfavoured. The names aren’t all that clear, but the stages are a useful analysis framework. They represent (a) investment with recognised risk where intensive in-house resourcing may be required; (b) selection from a developing market where there is differentiation between options with increasing standardisation; (c) an established market where there is little differentiation between competitors except on price, and costs can be driven down; and (d) obsolescence, where the cost of supporting outdated technology begins to rise so that it overtakes the cost penalty of replacement and/or the business benefit delivered.

It’s not a new concept; my CIO in a large pharmaceutical company provided a representation of the same concept in a strategic briefing ten years ago. And I think his chart was clearer. I don’t find the clock concept convincing, because what goes round doesn’t necessarily come round. As business evolves, things do fall off the end; discontinue is always an alternative to supersede.

And Gartner paint themselves into something of a corner by using a clockface. They need to represent the time-to-next-stage (that is, when do I next need to review?) and they do this with symbols as in the Hype Cycle. But, as assets move round the clock, their level of commoditisation (that is, how easily can they be replaced?) is represented by distance from the centre: so, assets positioned near the circumference can be more easily replaced. Polar coordinates (r, θ for the cognoscenti) of this kind are not nearly so intuitive as their Cartesian (x, y) cousins.

Nor is understanding helped by the fact that the labels on the quadrants on the clockface (Advantage, Choice, Commoditisation, Replacement) aren’t the ones outlined in Gartner’s own description and reviewed above. Then there are (in Hype Cycle style) further snazzy names on the dial at midnight, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock. To my mind this doesn’t add clarity but then I prefer clarity to marketing.

What do users need to do to make use of this tool?

First: be clear what the segments are really about. Develop your own understanding alongside the framework. What’s your attitude to early stage technology investment? Equally, what’s the attitude to retiring stuff? I remember a BCS talk some years ago from a Chief Architect of a major UK company, who told us that one thing the company’s investment policy made it difficult to do was close down obsolescent services. No-one would invest in replacement or retirement when there was no new functionality, irrespective of cost arguments. “Cheaper” gave way when “better” or “simpler” were not demonstrated.

Second: understand that the process represented by the Market Clock is not, in fact, a cycle. Not all early-stage technologies become part of the mainstream; the business advantage may fade or never materialise. Replacement, as a label for the fourth stage, is particularly unfortunate. Not all services are replaced when they are obsolete: they may simply be retired, because a replacement would not deliver enough benefit to the business to be worth it.

But, third: use this framework, or some other, to review established services and watch for the crossover point when the cost of ongoing maintenance exceeds the cost of replacement and changeover. The Market Clock suggests criteria: the level of standardisation (read: ease of switching vendors) and the level of commoditisation (read: outsource and expect to reduce costs).

Then, fourth: look at the other tools in your armoury. If you’re an established Gartner client, learn how to use the new tool alongside the Hype Cycle: Gartner suggest that the Hype Cycle is for technology hunters, and the Market Clock for farmers. But also have a look back at Forrester’s TechRadar, introduced in April 2008, which has always been a whole lifecycle tool.

The Market Clock suggests criteria to create a roadmap for moving assets from initial acquisition to retirement or replacement. If this isn’t part of your asset management strategy already, then this may stimulate you to create one. If, as is perhaps more likely, you already do this then here is a tool that may help to formalise or (equally important) effectively present your plans. But – like the technologies it helps you manage – the watchword is: use with care!

• Introducing the IT Market Clock, Gartner, 17 Sept 2009 (open access; if this link doesn’t work then go to Gartner.com and search for “Market Clock”
• Forrester get TechRadar on the road [updated], ITasITis, 25 Apr 2008 (and references therein)