How To Read Technology Surveys

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Technology vendors love surveys. It would be hard to find a tech specialist that hasn’t at one time or another conducted a market study in order to table ‘findings’ that are meant to provide industry insight in one direction or another.

The challenge here is that IT surveys are typically channeled to analyze a specific segment or niche of the market, or to address a specific technology platform issue. But even when they are carried out ‘independently’ (by analyst houses or dedicated research firms), there is obviously a general skewing towards the core interests of the firm paying for the work.

So how are we supposed to separate the wheat from the chaff?

In almost every instance, there is clearly a certain gravitational pull to keep surveys close to an organization’s market interests. To step outside of tech for a moment, we don’t find cake bakeries carrying out studies on the oil and gas industry. Cake specialists (if they do conduct surveys) want to know what color frosting sells best and analyze what month is the most profitable for birthday celebrations.

Logically then, database vendors want to tell us about database trends, storage vendors want to tell us about data lakes and cloud vendors want to tell us about IT optimization trends… and so on. The question is, can they do so (in survey form) without presenting an overly contrived information analysis based upon ‘loaded’ questions designed to produce a self-serving result?

Survey insubstantiality

In order to know what to look for in a technology survey, let’s first ask what not to look for… or at least what not to focus on. If a data warehouse modernization specialist releases a survey suggesting that modern analytics environments require data renovation and rejuvenation practices, then you can bet a safe buck on not taking the whole thing as gospel.

If a well-known technology behemoth with an interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) releases a survey suggesting that corporate interest in AI is increasing by 34.9% (or some other overly specific figure of measure), then it could be a case of hoping for a little more human intelligence. If a leading brand of data storage conducts a survey into data storage vulnerabilities, then you can reach for a good pinch of salt.

The list goes on… you get the picture.

One lower is one louder

If you do find that your inbox gets regularly peppered by tech surveys, then take a deep breath and read a little lower into the subtext of what is being presented.

This technique is not foolproof, sometimes even the finer details presented in your average tech survey don’t stray too far out of summarizing the blindingly obvious. For example…

Survey finds AI is on the rise, but skills shortages and lack of employee trust in automation technologies are still major issues — you don’t say? Survey finds cloud application advantages can save money, but only when a holistic approach to platform-wide tech updates is adopted to avoid IT silos — amazing, but actually true. Survey finds microservices, containers and serverless technologies (all current darlings of the tech world) to be key drivers for tech change in 2020 — shut the front door, how did they work that out?

Supplementary side dishes

But, sometimes, drilling down into the survey content that the vendor has presented as a supplementary sidedish is often where the tastiest morsels are found.

In recent survey examples, one data warehouse modernization specialist noted that it’s actually the core mechanics of the Extract, Transform & Load (ETL) process to get data from one place to another that works out to be the biggest challenge in day-to-day operations. An Application Programming Interfaces specialist (in simple terms, software ‘glue’ that connects different services and/or chunks of code together) found that half of APIs used by software departments are internally developed, a third are shared only among integration partners and the remainder used are public. Hmm, where software mechanics originate has an impact on they way they are used, very interesting. A managed services provider (that issued a survey ‘finding’ that managed services provider usage is increasing in demand – no, honestly) also noted that IT diagnostics are a key route to understanding how software systems should be modernized. Did the firm lead with the diagnostics angle? Surely we don’t need to answer that, right?

These side dish IT survey morsels rarely make headlines, but they are often the kind of thing that really does explain the way trends are moving. Nobody goes to a restaurant to order a plate of bread rolls and an order of cauliflower (and if you do, I profoundly apologize), but this is where the substance is often found.

“It all started to go wrong when the cost of administering a survey essentially dropped to zero with the advent of online survey tools. When surveys cost money to deliver, people would invest in designing them correctly and doing now often unheard-of things… like testing them before general release. These days they’ll too often be hacked together by a junior member of a marketing team – and if designed at all – then it will be to produce the answers that the sponsor first thought of,” said, Matt Ballentine, a sociology major with experience in survey design, currently working as head of technology and transformation at RHP Group, a UK-based non-profit housing management company.

Our survey said

Like them or loathe them, we’ll see plenty of technology surveys this year and onward throughout the forthcoming decade.

Look out for the overly-specific percentage analysis results i.e. if interest in managed services provision has gone up 18.7% in Albania according to xyz company, then why were they looking for that kind of trend? Look out for the obvious self-serving agenda being tabled… and these are so ubiquitous we don’t need an example. Also perhaps look out for surveys with too many ‘findings’ i.e. these analyses should be suggested trends at best.

Finally, look out for the bread rolls and other tastier side dishes and perhaps, just occasionally, make yourself a cauliflower sandwich to go.


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