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IT pros weigh Gartner Magic Quadrant lawsuit

Companies that use Gartner's Magic Quadrant rankings in product evaluations are watching ZL Technologies' vs. Gartner with interest.

Many IT professionals empathize with a lawsuit lodged against Gartner that alleges the research firm favors large vendors in its Magic Quadrant vendor rankings report.

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Filed by ZL Technologies Inc. -- a small email and file archiving vendor -- the suit claims that Gartner Inc.'s well-known Magic Quadrant vendor rankings favor big companies with large marketing budgets. And some end users who use the Quadrants for research on IT buying decisions agree with that contention.

San Jose-based ZL Technologies sued Gartner and one of its analysts for defamation, trade libel and false advertising, among other things. In its initial complaint, filed in May, the company claimed that Gartner's "Magic Quadrant," an annual report ranking IT vendors in particular categories, favors larger companies to the detriment of smaller vendors and IT buyers. A hearing is slated on the matter for this Friday.

Magic Quadrant part of making business case for IT ?
End users aren't as frustrated by Gartner's research, but said they use the Magic Quadrant report sparingly, usually during early research in vendor selection. Several IT professionals said they took the findings with a grain of salt and assume that top-ranked vendors were also Gartner clients.

Still, many said they had to take the rankings into consideration, if only to appease C-level executives in their own companies who track the findings. Top-ranked vendors typically publicize their rankings within the media and for customers.

How much impact does Magic Quadrant PR? Not much, several IT pros said. "I would say [the Magic Quadrant] has about a 20% influence on the overall vendor decision," said one former IT executive at a New York publishing company. It is "certainly not a deal maker or breaker."

The former exec said he agrees with the conflict-of-interest claims from ZL Technologies, however.

"Our Gartner account rep … definitely favored big clients with big budgets. It was always about the money, and he pushed things we could in no way afford. We just ignored him and did the research and made our own decisions."

Another IT executive at a large New York financial institution said his company uses the Magic Quadrant for basic research -- especially since internal IT staff has been cut. That said, the company's IT staff uses the report to narrow down the contenders, but takes its overall recommendations with some skepticism.

In some cases, IT staff people that choose vendors in a lower quadrant of the report may end up with some explaining to do.

"Gartner does get the attention of CIOs and CEOs on their quadrant ranking of IT products," said Al Gallant, an IT executive at a large New England medical facility. "I do use Gartner's quadrant ranking when looking at IT products. Gartner does their homework, and I really have never seen anything in their analysis that I would consider faulty."

Gallant added that CEOs tend to focus on the products that fall into the "Magic Quadrant." That forces CIOs to justify choice of a vendor product purchase that isn't listed in the Quadrant.

"The bottom line is this," Gallant said. "The good CIO has the conversation, regarding where the product ranks in the Gartner quadrant with the CEO prior to purchasing a product, not after."

Gartner claims First Amendment protection
In the complaint, ZL Technologies claims that Gartner's "wrongful conduct has had, and continues to have, the effect of destroying competition in the enterprise market for archiving."

Gartner responded that the Magic Quadrant is an opinion-based report and as such is protected by the First Amendment. On Friday, there will be a hearing on Gartner's motion to dismiss the complaint based on these grounds.

"Expressions of opinion on matters of public concern are entitled to the protections of the First Amendment and Article I, Section 2 of the California Constitution," according to Gartner's reply. "Under the First Amendment, a protected 'opinion' is one that does not assert or imply facts capable of being proven true or false. …. As protected speech, expressions of such opinions on matters of public concern are nonactionable."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. Also, check out our blogs: Data Center Facilities Pro, Mainframe Propeller Head, and Server Farming

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