With the ascendance of computers networks, the IT market-research industry has grown from a kind of nerdy niche into a big business. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the Stamford, CT-based GartnerGroup. Founded in 1979, the company has grown into a powerhouse, with more than 1,000 analysts dispensing information and advice to some 11,000 client organizations. Since going public in 1993, the company has been acquiring other research firms, adding the likes of the International Security Association, Dataquest, and Datapro Information Services to its stable. Today, with revenues of more than $511 million, Gartner is the most visible player in the industry. But it is by no means the only one. The list of other notable, fast-growing companies includes:
JUPITER COMMUNICATIONS - "We're the only technology research firm that focuses exclusively on consumer interactivity," says Adam Schoenfeld, Jupiter vice president and senior analyst. "We do not tell you what network to deploy within your corporation, what software to use for your corporate desktop, or the cost of ownership of PCs." Instead, he says, New York-based Jupiter's clients are companies that want to use the Internet and other new technologies to target consumers.
Jupiter divides its world into several practice areas, including Consumer Content, Digital Commerce, Online Advertising, Web Technology, and Telco & Cable Internet. Major research projects include "The Television Industry and the Internet," "Consumer Internet Economy," and "Online Travel: Five-Year Outlook." Today, of course, the company's knowledge base is the stuff of news, and Jupiter has recently been cited in the media for its reports on consumer trust of on-line information, customer-service shortcomings at Web sites, and the rise of Web portals as news outlets.
Jupiter is privately held, but it's clearly growing, says Schoenfeld. "Our revenues in '94 were on the order of a million dollars, and this year our revenues will be on the order of $20 million. We're not big in terms of the biggest research firms like Gartner, but our growth rate is impressive. We feel there's a compelling proposition in specialization, where we are experts on consumer activity and can provide that focus." - P.H.
FORRESTER RESEARCH - Founded in 1983 by Chairman, President, and CEO George F. Colony - the "F" is for Forrester - Cambridge, MA-based Forrester Research went public in 1996, and by 1997 revenues had grown from $14.5 million to $40.4 million. To a large extent, Colony and his colleagues have built the business on a reputation for definite and sometimes-contrarian research, with recent forecasts calling for up to $3.2 trillion in Internet commerce by 2003, and the death of HDTV. Describing the company's staff, Colony once pointed out that "we all gave our third-grade teachers a lot of trouble."
Forrester targets the corporations that use technology, and today the firm serves more than 1,000 companies. Services are divided into three broad areas: Senior Management Research, which takes a high-level view of the impact of technology; Information Technology Research, which is aimed at corporate IT organizations; and New Media Research, which explores emerging technology and on-line business.
In general, Forrester focuses less on the numbers and statistics, and more on how new technology will affect the way companies work. "Technology is now about the business of the business - a wrong decision means fewer customers and lower market share," Colony wrote to investors last year. "Clients need help, and they know it." - P.H.
INTERNATIONAL DATA CORP. - Framingham, MA-based International Data Corp. (IDC) got its start way back in 1964, giving it plenty of time to build an extensive market-research practice and a truly global presence, says Kirk S. Campbell, president and CEO. With 500 analysts working in 45 countries, "we have offices not only at the headquarters level and regional levels, but also down to the country level. So when Asia Pacific starts to fall apart, for example, we have people on the ground there, really keeping in touch on a daily basis, and feeding that information to our clients."
IDC covers a lot of ground conceptually, as well. Eleven major practice areas address "any aspect of computing that you want to look at," says Campbell; they range from "Consumer and Small Business" to "Components and Peripherals" - and within each area there are a dozen or more subdivisions of research. Altogether, IDC conducts some 300,000 surveys of computer users annually, creating a huge base of primary data that allows it to produce detailed reports exploring, for example, IT usage in the health care industry, or the use of multifunction peripherals by small businesses in Western Europe.
Since 1990, IDC's revenues have tripled to more than $100 million, and Campbell says that it's not difficult to see why business is booming. IT is "a critical factor that all corporations are now using to become more efficient and to better work with their customers. It really has become an indispensable resource in every part of the economy." - P.H.
META GROUP - The META Group, based in Stamford, CT, combines traditional market research with broader consulting services, says Chairman and CEO Dale Kutnick. "We help people decide what it is they need to do to be successful from a business standpoint, and then underneath that, what technologies they should employ to exploit those opportunities."
With 380 employees and some 1,500 clients, META Group did $51 million worth of business in 1997 and has continued to grow since. The company provides guidance in more than a dozen areas and offers publications such as an IT staffing guide and an "Outsourcing Index" that ranks vendors. In the coming year, says Kutnick, a key topic for the firm will be "externalizing business." In terms of research, the concept encompasses the serving of customers electronically, collaboration, security, information supply chains, customer relationship management, and technology's contribution to business innovation. "Obviously, there is a whole IT component in all this, which is going to be very important to drive the information out, whether you are using intranets or extranets or any of that interesting technology to do it."
That kind of guidance is increasingly critical to META Group's clients, Kutnick adds. "The average global 2000 company is going to spend $200 million on IT; if you look at the median, it's 2.5 percent to 3 percent of revenues....That's a big investment, and you can't invest foolishly because you may not get a second chance." - P.H.
STUDY HALLS - Looking for the R in R&D? Want to know what's careening down the information highway faster than you can say "voice recognition"? Worried that someone's about to introduce a high-tech product that will render your system obsolete before you've even unpacked it" Then check out the host of thriving research labs working at full throttle at some leading corporations and universities."
New technologies are finding their way from the lab to the marketplace faster than ever because the labs are taking an active role in transferring their theories into practice. And many aggressive venture capitalist have made a habit of cultivating the relationships at top research institutes in the hope of discovering a profitable startup candidate. One tactic they've perfected: Hiring MBA candidates to scope out promising technology at the schools the students attend.
It's not surprising, then, that nearly half of the venture capital spent in the U.S. finds a home within a one-hour drive of the allowed labs at MIT and Stanford. MIT has created some of today's hottest multimedia and computer speech recognition technologies, while Stanford innovations still drive the Silicon Valley economy, with contributions as diverse as FM sound synthesis for computers and recombinant DNA cloning. Other academic research powerhouses include Carnegie-Mellon's robotics lab and the Artificial Intelligence lab at the University of Michigan - as well as the undergraduate computer science department at the University of Illinois, from which sprang the n ow ubiquitous Web browser.
The top names among corporate research centers are all familiar, including Xerox PARC, Lucent, Microsoft, and of course Big Blue. Lucent Technologies, formerly Bell Labs, is making up for lost time since being spun off from AT&T 15 years ago; the birthplace of the transistor is now the home to the nation's largest research staff, numbering nearly 25,000. With a much smaller staff, IBM Research has recently scored knockouts by developing new data storage devices with literally thousands of times the capacity of current disk drives. Microsoft is a comparatively recent addition to the roster of top corporate research centers. But what Redmond lacks in terms of tradition is more than balanced by Microsoft money and a commitment to attracting top talent.
But perhaps the nation's most productive research center is Xerox PARC. Beyond having developed many of the seminal concepts that spawned the computing revolution, PARC has racked up what may be the highest ration of patents per employee of any U.S. lab, with at least one patent on file for each of its 2,500 employees. After nearly three decades of developing essential technology that turned into other firms' hit products such as Microsoft Windows, Ethernet computer networking, and laser printing, PARC is now making a point of nurturing startup businesses to take advantage of Xerox's impressive catalog of patents. That catalog is proudly on display at parc.xerox.com and ranges from studies of the way people use computers to the components of the chips used in X-ray imaging. - B.D.
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