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3 things you need to know about Gartner magic quadrants

Richard Stiennon | July 9, 2012
Despite heated debate surrounding the Gartner Magic Quadrants, the vendor community and IT leaders both continue to support the research. The Magic Quadrant is a useful tool, but to reap its greatest benefit, you need to use it with the full knowledge of the research process and the analysts behind.

The Gartner Magic Quadrant is the passionately discussed tool for product selection in the IT industry. It is criticized for its simplicity, subjectivity and blind spots. Ask any vendor's marketing professional about the Magic Quadrant and they will fill your ear.

I have experience with the Magic Quadrant, both from the perspective of the author of several and on the vendor side as one who has struggled with its shortcomings. And yet, despite the vitriol, the vendor community and IT leaders continue to support the Magic Quadrant; vendors by promoting Magic Quadrants when they are designated Leaders, and IT management when they use MQs to short-list vendors. The Magic Quadrant is a valuable tool, but it has to be used with full knowledge of the research process and the analysts behind it to get the greatest benefit.

The Magic Quadrant had its inception at research meetings conducted by Gideon Gartner when Gartner Group was still small enough for most of the analysts to fit in one room at 50 Topgallant Road in Stamford, Connecticut.

Gideon was a proponent of "Stalking Horses" thought experiments that would spark innovative thinking. During one meeting an analyst was presenting on a new technology sector. Gideon stepped to the easel and drew a quadrant with two axis bisecting it. He never meant Quadrants to be published and they never were on his watch.

Sometime in the 90s the Quadrant evolved into an official Research Note and today there are hundreds of Magic Quadrants for sectors as defined as Firewalls and as obscure as Cloud Infrastructure as a Service and Web Hosting.

The Magic Quadrant has two axes. The horizontal is "Completeness of Vision" and is a reflection of how many features a product has and the innovative enhancements that are forcing other vendors to react to keep pace. The vertical axis is "Ability to Execute" and is determined by revenue, number and quality of resellers and distributors, number of employees and their distribution between engineering, sales, and support and other business issues. Thus, the upper right quadrant is were the Leaders sit, the lower right is Visionaries, the lower left is Niche, and the upper left is Challengers.

I found myself, in 2000, the author of several security-related Magic Quadrants when the research methodologies were yet to be as formalized as they are today. I used information from Gartner's DataQuest research to determine which vendors would be on it and I conducted interviews with each vendor. Then, with knowledge gleaned from talking to hundreds of end users, I would determine where the dots would be positioned for each vendor. It was indeed subjective but the process was informed by knowledge of the space.


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