The Sociology of a Market Analysis Tool: How Industry Analysts Sort Vendors and Organize Markets
The information technology (IT) marketplace appears to be shaped by new kinds of specialist industry analysts that link technology supply and use through offering a commodified form of knowledge and advice. We focus on the work of one such organisation, the Gartner Group, and with how it produces a market analysis tool called the ‘Magic Quadrant’. Widely circulated amongst the IT community, the device compares and sorts vendors according to a number of more or less intangible properties (such as vendor ‘competence’ and ‘vision’). Given that potential adopters of IT systems are drawn to assess the reputation and likely behaviour of vendors, these tools play an important role in mediating choice during procurement. Our interest is in understanding how such objects are constructed as well as how they wield influence. We draw on the recent ‘performativity’ debate in Economic Sociology and the Sociology of Finance to show how Magic Quadrants are not simply describing but reshaping aspects of the IT arena. Importantly, in sketching this sociology of a market analysis tool, we also attend to the contested nature of the Magic Quadrant. Whilst Gartner attempt to establish this device as an ‘impartial’ and ‘legitimate’ arbiter of vendor performance, it is often viewed sceptically on the grounds that industry analysts are not always independent of the vendors they are assessing. Paradoxically these devices remain influential despite these sceptical assessments.