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Validating Technology in Today's Marketplace: Reviews and Awards

by Steve Webster

For IT managers, the realities of today's economic times – do more with less – puts tremendous pressure on every technology decision. At the top of the list are those decisions surrounding capital expenses, such as software or hardware purchases. Senior administrators are fond of asking questions such as, "Does it work?" "Will it perform as advertised?" "Does it justify the cost in money and personnel?"

Even the best IT manager needs help, or at least some verification for their choices. One of the most credible sources of information comes from industry experts: the reviewers and editors at the nation's top trade publications. These luminaries go far beyond simply watching the technology trends – they define the industry's cutting edge.

The power of reviews and awards in eWeek, InfoWorld, Network Computing, PC Magazine, FCW, and other industry-specific publications lies in the fact that the reviews are conducted by acknowledged experts and performed by independent analysts who are not afraid to challenge vendor claims. The reviews are not simply a summary of product specifications, they contain some of the most opinion-based editorial content available today.

InfoWorld reviews contain summaries stating the product's business case, its technology case, and a scorecard with their assessment of ease of use, implementation, scalability, security, and the like. eWeek's Executive Summary examines key performance indicators and offers eWeek Labs' the bottom line assessment.

With a survey some years ago, Ziff-Davis confirmed what much of the industry believed - technology buyers use coverage in trade publications to justify their purchases a whopping two-thirds of the time.

Regardless of the type of review (first looks, stand alone, or comparative), IT buyers and CTOs use reviews and industry awards to:

  • Create a short list of products to consider
  • Justify to a superior a purchasing recommendation
  • Back up a purchasing decision " Generated support within an IT department for migrating to a technology
  • Prove to a stakeholder that a given technology works

Working with product reviewers

Central to working with the analysts at these key publications is understanding their jobs as journalists. Generally speaking, they love technology, they love products, and they love getting their hands on the latest and greatest solutions (regardless of if it comes from a large firm or a startup). While there is some contextual value in the history of the company and executive team, it has a very small role in evaluating a technology product.

Where the vendor or PR agency can help its cause most is in educating reviewers (or at least those who are willing to hear what a vendor has to offer). Provide fair, honest, and accurate information about the product – strengths, typical customers, appropriate environments, and differentiators. Done properly, this type of education will go a long way to assure that the reviewer understands the product's market and positioning. If possible (and particularly for software), provide a live demonstration to highlight the key aspects of the product. Current Web technologies such as WebEx make this possible and affordable.

Deliver the product

It seems obvious, but for a reviewer to evaluate a product, the reviewer must have a full copy of the product to work with. If humanly possible send the full, working version that a real customer would receive. Do not send a crippled version or one that expires after a certain amount of time. When working with hardware that must be returned, be sure to obtain some form of product loan agreement and make it as easy as possible for the reviewer to return the product when he or she has completed the review.

Follow up

Once a review is in progress, vendor communication is crucial. Most reviewers today are willing to communicate with the vendor to resolve technical issues, clarify uncertainties, and double check specifications (including pricing and availability). Provide as much follow up as the reviewer allows.

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With more than a dozen years of reviews experience, including a stint as reviews editor at eWeek, Steve Webster has been guiding clients through the product review process first at Brodeur Woldwide and now for Birnbach Communications.

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