The Gartner Magic Quadrant double standards, plus how to properly read the MQ

* Vendors mock the MQ for being superficial and meaningless but crow about it if they're featured

It never fails. Each year, at events like Digital ID World that's happening this week, I hear, privately, from a number of vendors - who don't wish to be quoted - about how superficial and meaningless are the Gartner Group's "Magic Quadrant" proclamations. I then get a press release from these same vendors trumpeting their placement in one quadrant or another.

If you’ve never read a “Magic Quadrant” document, browse here and take a look. Especially look at the disclaimer at the bottom:

“The Magic Quadrant is a graphical representation of a marketplace at and for a specific time period. It depicts Gartner’s analysis of how certain vendors measure against criteria for that marketplace, as defined by Gartner. Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in the Magic Quadrant, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors placed in the ‘Leaders’ quadrant. The Magic Quadrant is intended solely as a research tool, and is not meant to be a specific guide to action.”

While Gartner may advise clients not “…to select only those vendors placed in the ‘Leaders’ quadrant,” the vendors themselves seem to grade each other based on how close to the top right corner they can get. Not only do they perceive the “Leaders” quadrant as the place for winners, but think the gold medal goes to the one highest and furthest to the right. Yet the criteria for placement does not support that presumption. For example, a couple of years ago, Thor Technologies’ provisioning product ranked third or fourth (depending on how you read the chart). Once it was acquired by Oracle, however, it quickly jumped to second and then “first” (depending on how you view it) with little change except for the acquisition. The major differences appeared to be a larger sales force and a “more complete” identity management line (when coupled with the rest of Oracle’s offerings). But it was still the same product!

Unfortunately for you, your CxOs will be reading the report – and the press releases – and urge you to choose the “high and wide” selection rather than the one which is a best fit for your circumstances. Forewarned is forearmed: print out the disclaimer – in 14 point type – and have it ready to show to any CxO who wants to talk about the “Leaders” quadrant. Better yet put it in language they’ll understand – make it a PowerPoint slide!

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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