MWD’s new alliances leave us lukewarm

MWD Advisors’ annoucement of two “key partners” in its growth strategy have us scratching our heads. They seem to divert rather than amplify the firm’s focus.

This boutique firm principally follows IT infrastructure issues from a management perspective. Its research covers topics including SOA, SLAs and the associated offers of vendors like BEA, CA, Cisco, IBM and Microsoft.

This week it announced two new partners: Freeform Dynamics and Influencer50. Both firms’ directors have worked with members of the MWD team before: Dale Vile worked with Jon Collins at Quocirca; Mark Stevenson worked with Neil Ward-Dutton at Ovum and in Clear.

Freeform conducts, and analyses, primary research in the European and North American technology markets. It focusses on how and why technology investment decisions are made. The description of its methodology will interest connaisseurs and much can be observed by reading between the lines. It has coined the phrase “freeform quantitative research”. Of course, free-form, the ability to adapt research and extrapolate from unstructured data, is a major advantage of qualitative research: perhaps quantitative research can become free-form by surveying in small tranches and adapting the survey. Certainly, the depth of insight produced is self-evident. Despite its undoubted strengths, we struggle to see how this form of research – which is essentially retrospective and quantitative – can fit the research methods of MWD, which is highly domain-specific, qualitative and focussed on generalising the most advanced and strongest approaches to aligning IT, rather than divining the mainstream.

The alliance with Influencer50 deeply surprised us. We never met Richard Ferrari, the now departed founder of Influencer50, but heard colourful stories. Neither are we up-to-date with its current ownership; its domain is owned by the Noiseworks PR company, whose registered office Influencer50 also share. While Noiseworks’ website’s search engine produces no mentions of Influencer50, a press release explains their co-operation. When Influencer50 was launched during late 2002 and early 2003, its core business was primary research which aimed to survey a firm’s clients and potential clients to identify the 50 individuals who were the primary influencers on their buying. It was a fixed price report (I think it was $10,000 or less). The approach interested us. Someone at Lighthouse asked mainstream market research firms if they could conduct such studies for our clients: the price ranges we got back were much, much higher. So we concluded that there was something novel about the Influencer50 studies that made them irreproducible.

The firm has since developed a communications and messaging consulting offer outlined in a white paper, and this seems to be a major focus for the firm now. Of course this is an area of interest to a number of PR agencies, and we note with interest that Influencer50 now accredits PR agencies. The firm’s clients are a testiment to the sort of work it does. However, we struggle to see the benefit to MWD and note ARmadgeddon’s suggestion that it could appear to be a conflict of interests (which of course it would not be, knowing the spotless reputations of the people involved, but perception and reality are dangerously separate).

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