New Consulting Service Changing Research Rules

A group of respected IT analysts have ventured into new industry territory, hoping to change the way professionals learn about and implement new technology to be compatible with their businesses. Their experiment, Technology Evaluation Center (TEC, Woburn, Mass.), is a consulting firm in the model of legacy research houses, with a distinctive characteristic. TEC offers one of its business's central components--general industry research--for free."The idea behind it is pretty simple, which is to have on the Internet a single point where folks can come as a destination to detailed research and advice on the high end of the marketplace from an overall traditional technology research note perspective," said David Wright, CEO and a founding partner of TEC.

The founders of TEC are working to make their company that destination through its Web site, www.technologyevaluation.com, where research on various topics from vendor and product offerings to technology trends are posted free of charge. TEC's research is designed for a management-level market, dealing with issues surrounding enterprise networks, data warehousing and e-commerce, more so than with PCs or PC-related trends and products.

Like most of the executive team at TEC, Wright is a former executive of the GartnerGroup, which he and several other founding partners left last year to pursue their new venture. Wright says that working at Gartner drew the group's attention to an untapped market of IT professionals which they now hope to target with technologyevaluation.com.

"What we observed in the context of our past lives is that the research houses have a great deal of influence, but the irony is that … there were about 26 million IT professionals worldwide that exist, and only about 100,000 were being serviced," Wright says. "… So we said that there was enormous opportunity with the co-evolution of the Internet to go about and provide a research framework for the 26 million IT professionals and their business counterparts who are interested in educating themselves about the trends, the vendors and the products in the high end of the marketplace."

The plan for TEC, according to Wright, is that those professionals who look to educate themselves on a specific product through technologyevalution.com will go on to seek--and pay for--more hands-on, customized service, also provided by TEC. To that end, the company offers two off-line services as extensions to its online resource.

One of these services, Continual Business Alignment (CBA) fosters communication between a CIO's staff and the business side of an organization, in order to reach an understanding of how best to coordinate businesses goals with technology needs. TEC analysts then synthesize the IT and business agendas, mindful of the existing IT infrastructure, to decide how best to implement changes or improvements. Once the new technology is in place, TEC implements a quarterly review process to determine how well alignment goals are being realized.

"We basically close interactive proximity between the IS organization and the business side of the house, which is something which is an enormous problem right now," Wright said.As an extension of CBA's role in establishing an IT agenda, TEC's other off-line service, Technology Evaluation Services (TES), focuses on choosing appropriate tools and products for meeting the decided-upon agenda.

Linda Cohen, managing VP for GartnerGroup, contends however, that TEC's services, including its free online research, do not differ drastically from what traditional research houses offer, but merely take advantage of new ways of delivering those services. She expresses a belief that the ability to pass information to customers over the Web will not eliminate subscription research service.

"There's so many ways to get at information now," Cohen says. "But information doesn't equal knowledge. That's the whole goal of the consulting market. … Knowledge is what the research houses will provide through their subscription services--to understand the way that this information will be applied in the real world."

Wright's group is betting, however, that the Internet as a tool for accessing information will fundamentally change the research industry, and that traditional consulting firms will need to adjust to it.

"From a legacy research community perspective … I think they should pause and probably evaluate how they're going to deal with what is the emergence of content of the Internet, on a detailed basis, for free. And I guess that's their cross to bear," he says. "…You've got a lot of hungry minds out there that are searching for this type of information."