August 2, 2010

Further notes on ethics and analyst research

It’s been quite a weekend for discussion of analysts and ethics. A few more thoughts:

1.  The terms “ethics” and “ethical” are used somewhat inconsistently, along a spectrum from:

There are procedural rules of good behavior, and if you violate them that’s bad. That’s the essence of ethics.


Unless the motive was impure, an act was not unethical.

Either extreme, in my opinion, quickly leads to nonsense.

2. Actually, I think calling that a spectrum is a bit misleading. I’d prefer to say an act is unethical if:

Thus, somebody can make an error in the area of ethics and still be fully ethical if, upon realizing it, they straightforwardly correct it. On the other hand, a pattern of such “errors” can suffice to convict them of unethical behavior.

3.  In particular, I stand by the following views from the post and comment thread that set this all off:

4.  Merv’s analysis of white paper ethical issues was excellent, and supersedes mine. Continuing the oneupsmanship :), I’ll now try to synthesize by saying: 

5. In my post on white paper ethics, I confessed that I knew little of practices in sponsored podcasting. Eric Kavanagh helpfully filled me in on how he does it, tweeting

DM Radio is not pay-2-play; sponsors get leads & commercial but no editorial preference; enforced by tag team of me & Ericson.


Several rules: no product promotion; we talk business, tech, architecture, how-why-when stuff; I do a pre-call with ~all guests.


The policy is unscripted dialogue; in the pre-call, I tell guests to think of 3-4 key points they’ll make; no questions banned!!

6. I am generally appalled by the behavior of certain companies toward analysts, and their efforts to control what analysts say. Practices include:

Oracle is generally reputed as the worst offender, but while I agree with the criticism in general, I’m somewhat mellowed by the fact that I, personally, still have good access to key Oracle product people at important times.

As for Microsoft, on the other hand … well, let’s just say the best insight I’ve gotten from my back channels to date has been to find out exactly what falsehoods were being circulated about me in internal Microsoft communications. I also frankly am steamed at the moment that a Microsoft exec had the nerve to tell me that I shouldn’t post about ethical issues (a dictum I obviously have no intention of adhering to).

7.  It absolutely is possible for companies to change their analyst relations practices, both for better and for worse. The most dramatic positive change I recall is when, in the mid-1990s, Sybase went fairly quickly from utter dishonesty to having one of the best analyst relations guys ever (Dave Taber, when he had that role for them). In a slower evolution, IBM — which once filed a $7.5 billion lawsuit naming a Gartner Group analyst as co-defendant — has become pretty reasonable (even if large and bureaucratic) to deal with.


3 Responses to “Further notes on ethics and analyst research”

  1. Further thoughts on previous posts | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on September 27th, 2010 6:29 am

    […] flame war that erupted in response to my comments on vendor and analyst ethics spawned a number of more productive discussions […]

  2. Analyzing big companies is hard | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on October 7th, 2012 4:21 am

    […] I’ve made similar observations in the past, most directly in 2010: I am generally appalled by the behavior of certain companies toward analysts, and their efforts to […]

  3. [GUEST POST] Money, analyst attention, and implied analyst endorsement | The IIAR Blog on July 17th, 2014 9:25 am

    […] I almost never think it’s a good idea to accept the commission. It’s not that I dispute that it is possible to be ethical when writing white papers. I just don’t find it easy. And frankly, even analysts I regard as ethical commonly turn out […]

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