by Thomas Wailgum

Gartner Goes Fonzie on Us: “Aaay, It’s a Cool Vendor”

Apr 08, 2010
Enterprise Applications

Does being a Gartner-certified "Cool Vendor" really mean anything to the potential customers of high-tech vendors?

How is it possible that, up until yesterday, I had not heard about Gartner‘s “Cool Vendors” reports?! If there ever was a delicious piece of fodder for the Enterprise Software Unplugged blog, this is it.

Given the amount of angst and consternation that Gartner’s Magic Quadrant seems to conjure up with each report’s dotted diagram, I’m surprised there hasn’t been much talk in the blogosphere about “Cool Vendors.” The reports have, in fact, been in existence since 2004.

First off, what is a “Cool Vendor” report and how are vendors selected? According to Gartner:

Gartner defines a cool vendor as a company that offers technologies or solutions that are: Innovative, enable users to do things they couldn’t do before; Impactful, have, or will have, business impact (not just technology for the sake of technology); Intriguing, have caught Gartner’s interest or curiosity in approximately the past six months. Gartner’s listing does not constitute an exhaustive list of vendors in any given technology area, but rather is designed to highlight interesting, new and innovative vendors, products and services.

Now here comes the best part…wait for it:

Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness of a particular purpose.

I love that last part: These vendors are definitely “cool” but don’t expect any guarantees from us. It’s like encouraging your younger sister to date the cool guy, but vouching for him in this way: “I haven’t known him for too long, but he seems awful cool and his future looks awesome, maybe he’ll go to Harvard! Or, maybe, he’ll drink too much, put the moves on you and then smash up his car, killing you both in the process…. But, golly, he sure is the ‘It Guy’ right now!”

Are companies that desperate for IT vendor research these days that being “cool” actually counts for something? Does being a Gartner-certified “Cool Vendor” resonate with potential customers of the vendors?

Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh. I shouldn’t fault Gartner for showing a little marketing innovation—finding a creative way to highlight up-and-coming tech vendors its customers should consider. (One could, however, make the case that “What The Fonz Would Think” should somehow be worked into the evaluation criteria—maybe a “one” or “two thumbs up” icon?)

The categories of “Cool Vendors” are many: from cloud computing to application development to mobile and wireless to virtualization and on and on.

I suppose the mysterious, opinion-based nature of the evaluation criteria could set some people’s BS-meter off. Just like the Magic Quadrant, which has been dogged for years by “pay for play” claims. But let’s be clear: Gartner isn’t alone in facing these conspiratorial allegations, nor is it the only research firm that accepts money from the vendors it covers and analyzes.

Just about a year ago, all hell broke loose when ZL Technologies, a San Jose-based vendor that sells e-mail and document storage software, filed suit against Gartner. The allegations: “Gartner’s use of their proprietary Magic Quadrant is misleading and favors large vendors with large sales and marketing budgets over smaller innovators such as ZL that have developed higher performing products.” (The case was eventually dismissed in fall 2009.)

Apparently ZL wasn’t cool enough, either.

The point of a blog post I wrote last fall on the case applies just the same in the case of “Cool Vendor” lists: Don’t forget the grains of salt when reading the reports.

More than six years and dozens of reports later, it appears that Gartner’s “Cool Vendor” lists are still going strong. By now, though, one might have figured that such a list would have jumped the shark.

Do you Tweet? Follow me on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline.