How to Understand Gartner’s Similarity to the Devil Wears Prada

Executive Summary

  • Gartner operates more like a fashion magazine than a true IT analytics firm.
  • The similarity between Gartner and the fictitious Runway Magazine.


In a previous article How SAP Used and Abused the Term Legacy,

I made the following statement:

The fashion industry is based on a premise that its customers need to get the new items, which have a higher social status. If you don’t buy the newest items, you are stuck wearing legacy garments. Companies are presented in business school textbooks as highly rational, and one would not think that decisions work the same way. However, the term legacy is essentially the same strategy to motivate purchasing behavior as the fashion industry.

This got me thinking about who decides “what is hot and what isn’t hot.”

These opinion shapers live in New York, Paris and Milan and the decide what the fashionable closes will be.  The movie The Devil Wears Prada describes how this the fashion industry works.

In the movie The Devil Wears Prada, the young and impressionable Andy played by Anne Hathaway is alternatively hazed and praised by Miranda Priestly who is played by Merryl Streep. The Miranda Priestly character heads the fashion magazine called Runway Magazine. Miranda Priestly has to have her coffee just so, has to have the fashion book dropped off at her house in an exact way, she required the Anne Hathaway character to meet her exacting specifications. If you have not seen the movie, its a very good movie even if you could care less about fashion. The main plot point is that Miranda Priestly is so influential that she decides what is going to be in fashion and what is going to not be in fashion. 

In connecting up the dots of the fashion element or trendiness element that is part of enterprise software.

Enterprise Software and Fashion

For example, CRM is “hot,” even though in my estimation CRM in most cases has a negative ROI. I cover this at Brightwork’s software category page on CRM. Meanwhile, a software category with what is most likely a far higher ROI, like BOM/PLM software is far less commonly implemented.

Software categories get hot for reasons that are unrelated to the evidence for their return to the companies that implement them. This got me thinking about who is the Miranda Priestly and Runway magazine of enterprise software.

The answer to that question is easy. It is Gartner!

Gartner tells people what to buy, what is hot and what is not. As I cover in my book Gartner and the Magic Quadrant, Gartner is not so much a research entity as they are an information broker between software buyers and software vendors. The puff themselves up like a peacock and then charge people to talk to them. They then gather information to talking to the buyer and sell this information to the other side, and vice versa. The real asset Gartner has is not its research, but its network of buyers and vendors from whom Gartner is constantly gathering information. And Gartner is paid every time they gather information! It’s easy to work, and fantastic work…if you can get it.

At the time I wrote my book on Gartner I had yet to make the Devil Wears Prada connection. However, the connection is obvious, and I think difficult to disagree with.

The First Hurdle in Understanding Gartner

The first hurdle to get through is the impression that Gartner is not just some fashion magazine, but that they are a “research entity.”

They aren’t, and I prove it in the book. Being a research entity means that you follow the well-established rules of research, Gartner follows no research rules. That should be the first hint.

  • A real research entity does not employ cheesy sales tactics to raise money. It does not promise improvements in the Magic Quadrant in return for purchasing “advisory services.”
  • A real research entity does not over promise using cheesy and extortionist tactics to make money. (The over the top sales practices of Gartner are covered in my article Gartner and Scientology.)

The Epidemic of Fake Research Entities

I have analyzed the research output from many entities. I have never seen a real research entity behave the way that Gartner does in this regard.

And that is the thing to remember. Just because an entity declares itself to be a research entity does not mean that it is. Let me provide some examples that will help lend context.

  • The American Petroleum Institute claims to be a research entity, but they are a well-known front organization for large petroleum companies. No big surprise the API denies global warming something that 97% of climatologists agree is real.
  • The Heritage Foundation also claims to be a research entity, but they are a false front that follows no research rules and produces propaganda for big donors. As a donor, you can pay the Heritage Foundation not only to study anything you want, but you can tell them what you want the conclusions to be. The Heritage Foundation is quite influential in policy making; they give impressive titles to people with no academic or another background in the areas that they write on.
  • Large pharmaceutical companies justify enormous profits by their research and claim to be research entities. However, the truth is that pharmaceutical companies do very little research. They primarily review research performed by universities, much of it funded by the NIH (the federal government) and then they put the chemical compounds that the find most promising (a process called assaying) through clinical trials, which they go about in an unscientific way. They don’t care much if the chemical compound is effective, they are maximizing profits to get the most drugs through the FDA as possible. So they do not publish the studies that show no benefit of the chemical compound tested. If the pharmaceutical companies admitted that they are marketing entities, that they live off of the scientific work of taxpayers and that they falsify clinical trials, they would be regulated, and the money train would be much smaller. So instead of the truth, they say they pretend to be research focused.

Gartner is the same way. While I have seen Gartner excoriated in private conversations with many people, for Gartner gets mostly a free pass in the media. And if a software vendor were to openly challenge Gartner, Gartner could retaliate against them. Since Gartner does not publish the underlying numbers to what makes up the ratings, it would be hard to prove if they did.

Gartner has stated that is publishing and advice are merely its opinions. It reported this in the case brought by ZL Technologies who were suing them for essentially using a rigged system and pretending that the Gartner ombudsman provided remediation when in fact they did nothing when ZL Technologies brought the issue to Gartner.

So there you have it. Gartner itself states that it does not perform research, but of course they admit this only in certain circumstances. Conversely, Gartner’s website does not indicate this, and when you speak to people from Gartner all you hear about is how strong their research is, and Gartner’s website is filled with puffery about how much they do research. But when challenged in court, they walk away from all of those contentions and declare they are just offering “opinions.”

The Similarity Between Gartner and the Fictitious Runway Magazine

  • The fictitious Runway magazine in the Devil Wears Prada tells its readers what to buy. Just as Gartner does.
  • Gartner surveys the market, just like Runway, and serves as sort of a traffic light for what should be purchased this year. None of this has anything to do with scientifically what is shown to provide a return on the investment.
  • Gartner is highly trend-centric. Gartner is an excellent source for what is happening. But that is the extent of the value they add. This is the same as looking at a fashion magazine. You can find out what is hot and what is not this year. Is green the new black? A fashion magazine can tell you that. For the highly conformist in the population, this is incredibly comforting. Without this information, you would have to decide what to wear on your own.

Entities that report trends and that signal what is popular “this year” fall into the category of a fashion magazine. Gartner simplifies the enterprise software market and the offerings within it so that it is approachable for an audience with a lower knowledge level that is necessary to understand it. Whenever I read any Gartner research, there is never any point where I feel enlightened. But Gartner is not writing for me, they are writing for people that barely ever touch enterprise software. Gartner interferes with understanding enterprise software because they focus so heavily on oversimplified assumptions.


Gartner is not a research entity. Gartner cannot be a research entity because they seek to profit maximize. Profit maximization does not work with research because you must undermine the research you do, release information and come to the conclusion that increases profits as much as possible.

Gartner is an opinion leader. There is no disputing that point. They are the most influential entity for enterprise software decisions that has ever existed. They are a genius marketing organization that actually gets paid while collecting information from people and companies. All of that can be true and yet not be inconsistent with the fact they are really serve the same function as a fashion magazine but for enterprise software.

The Problem: Thinking that Gartner is Focused on What is True

Gartner is hired by companies who fundamentally don’t understand how Gartner functions. Gartner has virtually no first-hand experience in the technologies that they evaluate and get most of their information from speaking with executives at buyers or executives at vendors and consulting firms. Gartner is also not a research entity, they compare very poorly to real research entities once you dig into the details as we did in the article How Gartner’s Research Compares to Real Research Entities. Gartner serves to direct IT spending to the most expensive solutions as these are the companies that can afford to pay Gartner the most money. Gartner has enormously aggressive internal sales goals that place accuracy far below revenue growth in importance.

Being Part of the Solution: Fact-Checking Gartner

Gartner is quite expensive, and using them without independent verification ends up in a lot of money being wasted, both in terms of fees to Gartner and also in money spent on Gartner recommendations. We offer Gartner support services that make sure companies get a better value from Gartner, and keep companies from relying on advice where Gartner cannot substantiate the advice or where the advice is clearly in response to vendor pressure. This includes both covering how Gartner works, as well as reading and fact-checking the information they provide. Our clients don’t even let Gartner know that we are evaluating the information provided to them.

Financial Disclosure

Financial Bias Disclosure

Neither this article nor any other article on the Brightwork website is paid for by a software vendor, including Oracle, SAP or their competitors. As part of our commitment to publishing independent, unbiased research; no paid media placements, commissions or incentives of any nature are allowed.

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“McNamara holds the same point of view that I expressed last month: ZL doesn’t have a leg to stand on because Gartner’s research reports are covered by First Amendment protections. Yes, we all know that Gartner has virtual monopoly power these days in the IT research area, but the fact remains that what they publish are subjective views on market segments and the vendors that serve them.”

This statement does not understand the nature of the ZL Technologies complaint. The complaint is that Gartner poses as a research entity when it does not publish the math of the criteria that it uses. ZL Technologies complaint was that the ombudsman, often touted by Gartner as providing objectivity, does nothing of the sort. The complaint against Gartner was that it is posing as objective when it is not. This view presented does not seem to know that the First Amendment does or should not protect entities that publish information that they know to be false. Wall Street firms used the same argument to protect themselves in situations where it was proven that they lied to customers they sold financial products to customers that they knew would fall apart.

Search Our Other Gartner Content

Financial Disclosure

Financial Bias Disclosure

Neither this article nor any other article on the Brightwork website is paid for by a software vendor, including Oracle, SAP or their competitors. As part of our commitment to publishing independent, unbiased research; no paid media placements, commissions or incentives of any nature are allowed.


Gartner Book

Gartner and the Magic Quadrant: A Guide for Buyers, Vendors, and Investors

Gartner is the most influential IT analyst firm in the world. Their approval can make or break a vendor in an application category, or at the very least control their growth. Gartner has been behind most of the major IT trends for decades. However, many people read Gartner reports without understanding how Gartner works, how it comes to its information, its orientation, or even the details of the methods it uses for its analytical products. All of this and more is explained in this book.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: An Overview of Gartner
  • Chapter 3: How Gartner Makes Money
  • Chapter 4: Comparing Gartner to the RAND Corporation, and Academic Research
  • Chapter 5: The Magic Quadrant
  • Chapter 6: Other Analytical Products Offered by Gartner
  • Chapter 7: Gartner’s Future and Cloud Computing
  • Chapter 8: Adjusting the Magic Quadrant
  • Chapter 9: Is Gartner Worth the Investment?
  • Chapter 10: Conclusion
  • Appendix a: How to Use Independent Consultants for Software Selection
  • Appendix b: What Does the History of Media Tell Us About This Topic
  • Appendix c: Disclosure Statements and Code of Ethics