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Nonsensical: the latest Digital Experience Platform Wave from Forrester

Beware of the flaw of averagesWhen the large technology research firms produce foolhardy reports, our response is typically an eye-roll – Ho hum, there they go again. But, while mostly futile, those vendor plot graphs generate a lot of revenue, so we understand that they have to churn them out regularly to keep the business afloat, and thus, the resulting reports can’t all be top-notch.

But the latest Forrester Wave on Digital Experience Platforms, Q3 2017, deserves more than just an eye-roll and a chuckle. [BTW, we can’t display the graphic without getting a Cease and Desist order, but you can download your own copy here for now.] We have had enough customers ask about it, enough partners voice concerns, and enough vendors seek advice to speak up and call it what it is: complete nonsense. (Note: We thought about calling it a steaming pile of poo, but we didn’t want to be rude.)

We have criticized Forrester about earlier generations of this Wave before. But they’ve tripled down on the absurdity, claiming, essentially, that more products held by any one vendor means that their “platform” is better, and therefore more worthy of your consideration. This can’t be further from the truth, and aside from increasing Forrester’s M&A advisory services to vendors, this serves no one. Worse, it’s harmful. So at the risk of bringing it even more attention, we need to say a few things about this latest doozy out of Cambridge.

First, keep in mind that the context for our criticism here is that this is a Wave. Aside from generating revenue for Forrester, Waves are intended to help buying organizations make purchasing decisions. The location of a vendor’s dot matters. When Forrester deems a vendor a “Leader” or a “Strong Performer” in a Wave, they are telling their customers (and the rest of the world) they should consider them first, regardless of the content in the Wave spreadsheets that no one reads. Likewise, if a vendor is deemed a mere “Contender” or “Challenger”, those vendors just aren’t worth as much consideration in the category. Or so the graph implies. Forrester analysts will groan at me that they recommend their clients re-weight the categories according to their own priorities, but they know this never happens. The published Wave graphs themselves, and the weighted criteria behind them, create the winners and losers. (Well, they would if it weren’t for the much more widely cited graphs that come out of Stamford, CT.)

Second, the research in this Wave just smells lazy. Essentially, it is a “Wave of Waves” (a Tsunami?), which is to say that all the underlying criteria are directly related to how well the vendors performed in Forrester Waves of other categories. Specifically, it looks at how they performed across seventeen different Waves. Seventeen! Some of the “sub-Waves” are the ones you might expect, such as the Web Content Management Wave, or the B2C and B2B eCommerce Waves (who needs both?), or maybe even the Mobile Development Platform Wave (maybe, not so much). But it also assesses the vendors’ performance in the Global Public Cloud Platforms for Enterprise Developers Wave, and the Sales Force Automation Solutions Wave, and even the Customer Service Solutions for Enterprise Organizations Wave. In other words, Forrester is now saying that a Digital Experience Platform is merely the sum of its parts. Worse, it’s saying that the best Digital Experience Platforms, and the ones most deserving of your buying dollars, are the ones that have the most parts. Surprise, surprise, Larry Ellison wins! Do super yachts count? Because I think he’s got more of those than the other vendors as well.

This is nonsensical. No one buys technology this way, and no one values the vendors in this Wave based on the criteria Forrester has laid out. This report does not help buyers at all. Instead, it encourages every vendor and mega-vendor alike to make vacuous acquisitions, likely killing the innovative nature that made those acquisition targets appealing in the first place. They’ll be chasing Waves instead of chasing customers. Should Adobe buy a Sales Force Automation tool to get themselves back into the Leaders circle? That makes no sense other than in the context of this Wave. Should Marc Benioff buy a Web Content Management platform? Well, we’ve always thought so, but we bet it will happen sooner now that his dot will move north to combat Ellison’s. Just watch.

But the real question is, Did Cambridge not get the memo? Haven’t they heard that enterprises are not afraid of integration? Don’t they know that customers don’t buy, much less implement, all the parts of these “platforms” that they’re rating? Don’t they remember that they told us four years ago that organizations that are most mature when it comes to digital experience delivery, “have best-of-breed tools in place and clear provisioning policies open to cloud and open solutions and third parties when appropriate”? They were right back then, yet this report does not encourage best-of- anything. We all know it is extremely common for an organization to assemble an enterprise platform made up of lots of disparate pieces. Haven’t they heard of the Stackies?

So, why create this Tsunami of Waves based almost entirely on which vendor has collected the most parts? Does anyone care? And why should an enterprise prioritize vendors that have made the broadest land-grabs? Answer: because they should not. At least not on that merit alone. Each organization has different priorities, and thus they’ll approach their platform strategies from different angles, prioritizing one or more parts of the stack. Only in Cambridge would someone think it’s a good idea to create the next ECM- or ERP-like category and judge these disparate tools against it.

I was taught early in my career to beware of the flaw of averages. Averages hide the best and worst of anything, and they cater instead to mediocrity. The former Governor of Washington, Dixy Lee Ray, said it best: “The average person has one breast and one testicle.” Right, so that’s about what I think of this report. It’s a prescription for enterprises to buy platforms that get mediocre scores across many categories, rather than seeking the suites and best-of-breed solutions that perform extremely well across fewer categories and then integrating them to serve their own needs. Any good consultant in this space advises their clients to, “Avoid the check-box RFP”, yet this is nothing more than a “Checkbox Wave”.


As always, if you need help acquiring a technology or making decisions related to your Digital Experience Platform, please contact us. It’s what we do, and we’d be happy to help.


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