Should we put our trust in half-truths?

In this month’s printed version of ACN an IT manager asks: who can I trust when evaluating new solutions? My response given that I was restricted to 20 words or so was: ‘trust no one’. OK, that might have been a bit harsh, and, as I write, I can hear the IT vendor community throughout the Middle East sharpening its knives ready to do unmentionable things to me for daring to suggest they are telling lies.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  January 29, 2006

|~||~||~|In this month’s printed version of ACN an IT manager asks: who can I trust when evaluating new solutions? My response given that I was restricted to 20 words or so was: ‘trust no one’. OK, that might have been a bit harsh, and, as I write, I can hear the IT vendor community throughout the Middle East sharpening its knives ready to do unmentionable things to me for daring to suggest they are telling lies. Of course, the words ‘lie’ or ‘liar’ were neither implied nor intended. Rather, it’s about the selective use of the truth; playing with statistics; half-truths, misleading statements: call it what you will. That’s the reality, and I’m sure every vendor to the man will argue that they’re not in business to promote a competitor’s case. But, I’d argue that neither are they in business to confuse their customers and destroy whatever trust they might have in them. I’m not talking here of the little corner retail outlet in the computer Souk, hawking an Intel Inside box that has never been anywhere near a genuine Intel processor. No, I’m talking about bigger fish. In fact, I’m talking about some of the biggest on the market. Towards the end of last year, for example Oracle ran an advertisement in the US claiming "94% of customers run up-to-date Oracle Applications (Easy to upgrade at no additional cost)." The ad contrasted that number to 4% of customers who run up-to-date SAP Applications, which, the ad claimed, are "so expensive and difficult to upgrade [that] 96% of SAP customers didn't do it." Pretty damning stuff, especially as Oracle said the source of these claims were statistics taken from a March 2005 Gartner report. Sounds fair enough. You don’t query Gartner findings too often. Wrong. What Oracle did apparently was compare numbers for two different time periods. Also, the numbers reflected all aggregated products on Oracle's side—that is all five Release 11i versions over a five-year period—but pertained to only one recent version on SAP's side. Needless to say Gartner was furious, but Oracle’s maintained that the gist of the ad is still on target. Then last month saw another research firm take issue with Oracle for misrepresenting research. Stratascope, which lists Oracle as a major paying client, issued a statement saying Oracle had used data from its files—which it was completely permitted to do, as a paying client—but then used the numbers to ‘prove’ its application outperformed others by 49.7%. The findings, said Oracle, were the conclusion in a "research study." Stratascope refuted this saying it had never conducted any such study and that it had no idea if such conclusions were fair or accurate until it does. It didn’t say Oracle's conclusions were wrong, but that they were Oracle’s conclusions—based on whatever methods Oracle felt like using. Don't get me wrong, I'm not singling Oracle out here and I'm sure that this sort of aggressive marketing tactic extends to pretty much all of the enterprise IT vendors looking to give their products and solutions an edge in the market. This just happens to be a case that has garnered recent attention in the US. Vendors are bending the truth as far as possible and some may say that is just indicative of a powerful marketing machine. As always it is a case of 'caveat emptor'. Don't take anything at face value and do your own research before taking the plunge and investing in a particular vendor's solution. After all, 63% of all statistics are rubbish according to recent polls! So, what is the buyer to do? Apart from the call to beware, nothing will replace good research on the ground. Contact user groups. Talk to users that aren’t put forward by the vendors and their partners. Look at what the research companies are saying. Despite their vested interests—in that the major vendors are often major clients—they do seem to retain objectivity in the name of ensuring the user market continues to trust them. They want to make sure end users keep buying their products and that they can develop a long-term relationship. It’s a pity their larger vendor clients aren’t thinking along the same lines. Your thoughts on trust in the IT industry are welcome. Write to colin.edwards@itp.com Colin Edwards Editor ACN||**||

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