Gartner’s Outsourcing Summit spotlights opportunities

Gartner’s astonishingly successful Outsourcing Summit has just closed here in London. The growing demand for events focussed on outsourcing is shown by both the attendance, which set a record, and by the demand for high-profile sponsorships: the event has 15 ‘platinum sponsors’ and zero ‘gold sponsors’.

The rising interest in focussed Gartner events is also a by-product of Symposium’s growth. As these events get larger, the nature of them changes. As an event to survey all of technology, Symposium need to generalise and abstract quite different trends. However, the resulting set of presentations is often rather generic and seems almost timeless to some. At Symposium, people often complain that the pace of change is too slow, and that analysts say roughly the same thing for several years.

The success of Gartner’s specialist events is that they focuss on a more granular level, and that’s of interest to both vendors and users. At this event, the recommendations are more specific and can adapt more quickly.

Here at the oursourcing summit, I heard the opposite of the the typical complaint about Symposium: here some people say that the pace of change is too fast. One view was this: ‘Last year they recommended strategic outsourcing. It will take me three years to impliment that, but this year they are saying that I need to turn around and go for mulitsourcing.’

However, the success of the summit also produces challenges. The attendees are now mainly vendors, and the event feels more like an exposition than it needs to.

It’s worth comparing the European outsourcing summit to the similar events organised by the EOA, the major industry body for outsourcing, and its national affliates such as the British NOA. Those are more tightly targetted, because the feeling is that the quality of delegates falls if the number of attendees is too high. Perhaps that is partly European elitism at work. However, it is the case that the NOA and EOA ecents are dominated by end-user organisations, and are therefore more attractive to some end-users and to some vendors, than the Gartner events.

The strength of the Gartner events is the analysts’ insight. Contrary to the ongoing bleating about poor research found in some quarters, the Gartner research presented at this event was fresh, insightful, and clearly driven by market changes. Analysts seemed happy to discuss and recommend regional players like Xansa and LogicaCMG even if they were off the global Magic Quadrant for outsourcing, which is weighted 75% towards the US market. There is real movement in gartner’s research on a number of topics, including a more flexible approach towards country maturity for offshoring (an area where Forrester is perhaps getting less flexible).

However, that strength is also a weakness. The NOA and EOA events have more end-users discussing their problems and needs, and this perhaps focusses the discussion more on issues of implimentation and control than on strategic choices.

Gartner’s events will continue to grow in preeminence, scale and draw. However, the danger is that one can shift the event so far in the direction of vendor sponsorship and participation that it starts to look like a honeytrap rather than a real event, regardless of the quality of the event. Nevertheless, that evolution will be good news for both Gartner’s shareholders and for the organisers of alternative events.

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