Never mind the engine, dig the groovy fins

Never mind the engine, dig the groovy fins

When it comes to e-procurement, the proper concerns of supporting and enabling Procurement have been put to one side in the excitable chatter and discussion of the technology. The signal gets lost in the noise.  It’s like going to a showroom where the salesmen and their acolytes do not tell you how fit their cars are for your particular purpose but instead, squabble about which has the sharpest fins or shiniest chrome.

Purchasing Insight logoThe  recent exchange of views between Pete and Jason Busch at Spend Matters rang bells for me. It put me in mind of some comments of I made last year on Purchasing Insight’s near namesake, Jon Hansen’s Procurement Insights.

There is a process in place which begins when an IT company develops a product about which it is very enthusiastic and which it wants to sell. The launch of the product is accompanied by an effusive press release, professionally drafted as a camera-ready article. At least some technical journalists will simply reformat it slightly and then print it as a news item without any critical analysis. This item will itself be further distributed through Twitter,  Blogs and news aggregation sites. It will be indexed and served up by search engines or sit in a cuttings file for further recycling.  It will also be picked up on by analysts who seem often not to look behind the press reports. In this way the press reports – which do no more than reprint the press release – tacitly function as independent verification and reinforcement of that same press release!

This is the process characterised by Nick Davies in a more rarefied context as “churnalism”.

Once the process gets going, delivery of an actual product is not necessary. A well publicised piece of vapourware is quite enough to gain a reputation for innovative thinking and “thought leadership”.

It gets worse. Unlike consumer products, neither the analysts nor the journalists who write about enterprise products are generally users of those products. The analysts who pronounce upon the market and market trends rarely undertake the level of research and analysis which equates to the end-user experience. Real live end-users are only rarely asked what they think (though their senior managers might be).

And it gets even worse. The analysts and journalists may well accept fees or sponsorship from the very companies from which they ought to retain a professional distance in order to remain objective. Conflict of interest? Surely not.

The effect of this, unobtrusively but conclusively, is that the emphasis has shifted from “analysis” based on what buyers might want to buy to PR based on what vendors want to sell. Pronouncements are made on “market leading” products and companies based upon criteria which are quite unrelated to whether or not the products are fit for purpose. Instead judgements are made based upon the halo effect of the favourable buzz and the ensuing attraction of investment capital to those “market-leading” suppliers.

The net effect is that a buzz and a hype is built up which bear little or no relationship with either the underlying reality of the product, or the alleged benefits of its application, or the capability of the company to deliver.

This is an edifice built on sand. While the dotcom boom and bust of 1995-2000 should constitute a salutary lesson, in fact it is largely forgotten in day to day practice where irrational exuberance continues to flourish.

(Thanks to Jon Hansen at Procurement Insights who published the original on which this piece is based.)

Ian Burdon can be found on twitter @IanBurdon