Industry Analysts: The Powerful Market Experts Shaping the Digital Future

Speaker: Prof Robin Williams # STIS, University of Edinburgh; Speaker: Prof Neil Pollock # Business School, University of Edinburgh

3rd Nov 2014

15:30 - 17:00

Conference Room, David Hume Tower


How should we understand the recent emergence of new kinds of actors who appear to set the direction of information technology (IT) markets? How is it that these experts apparently hold the success of new technologies in their hands? What do we make of the claimed capacity of these experts to ‘predict’ what the future of the digital world will look like? What gives them the power to ‘name’ entire generations of technology and decide which products fit into these classifications (or not)? How is it that they are able to say whether one technology vendor performs better than a rival? Why is their advice able to push a £5 million procurement decision in one direction or another? Where have these experts come from? How have they been able to build up what appears to be considerable influence over market processes in such a short time? How are we to understand and theorise these experts and their influence on technology markets?

This talk - which brings together ideas from our forthcoming book 'Industry Analysts: The Powerful Market Experts Shaping the Digital Future' (Oxford University Press) -has two related aims.

First we describe the emergence of these new forms of knowledge producer in IT markets. We explore their knowledge outputs and track how they are produced and consumed. From a small group of mainly North American players which emerged in the 1970s, such as Computer Intelligence, Dataquest, Forrester, Input, International Data Corporation, Ovum and Yankee Group, Gartner Inc. has emerged as clear leader of a $6 billion industry that involves several hundred firms worldwide. These industry analysts claim and are increasingly able to demonstrate specialised knowledge about vendors and products in the IT marketplace. In just a few decades these specialists have moved from an informal rudimentary and inchoate group to a developed and formalised occupation that has come to establish considerable authority over IT markets. Who are these experts who increasingly command the attention of vendor and user communities and what is the nature of their technical knowledge, the outputs they produce, the organisational configurations in which they work and from which their knowledge and products emerge? A central goal of the talk will be to spell out the influence of their various research outputs.

A second aim is to begin to think about how to analyse these business actors, and to argue the case for a Sociology of Business Knowledge. Science and Technology Studies, our home discipline, has largely shied away from addressing the proliferation of new forms of business expertise. Though critiquing the privileging of scientific knowledge, it has paradoxically ignored or 'deflated' business knowledge, in some cases portraying it as arbitrary knowledge whose methods and content do not deserve enquiry. Why is this? And what might a Sociology of Business Knowledge look like?