Where do you get your information?
What is your favorite source of information? You’re probably thinking it depends on the topic. Movie selections showing at the theatre might be searched at Fandango or Rotten Tomatoes; home appliance information might come from Consumer Reports or Ultimate Electronics; consumer electronics information might come from CNet or your buddies at the gym. The point is, there are many sources of information, some significantly more reliable than others.
Information sources have degrees of accuracy and reliability. In some instances, it is okay for the information to be dated. A book or movie review, for instance, is not time sensitive. On the other hand, high technology market research can be highly time sensitive. Product features and functionality change regularly; in some cases just about quarterly. Therefore, many analyst reports more than 90 days old have limited value.
The exception to the 90-day rule is reports that cover trends or psychographics. These can be a year or even 18 months old and still provide significant value and insight into a particular topic.
Consider the source. For such a simple phrase, it bears a lot of weight.
1. Analyst research is bought and paid for by vendors. If you are looking at a document and a vendor is missing, or seems to be handled inequitably, go with that gut feeling. Chances are good the weakly portrayed vendor either didn’t pony up to sponsor the research, or another vendor is the lead sponsor. Typically these types of reports compare and contrast competing vendors. Draw your own conclusions.
2. Government research is paid for through your tax dollars. This research is extremely thorough. It has a propensity to be all encompassing, so even the smallest firms typically show up. Government reports, however, are often dated due to the depth and breadth of the project. Government reports are great for understanding changing demographics or market trends. For example the Small Business Administration measures the number of small and medium businesses launched each year and the ethnic groups behind them.
3. University and think tank based research is typically paid for through research grants. This type of research is often survey based and covers a narrowly defined topic. Consider it in the same vein as a doctoral dissertation. There is a hypothesis that needs to be supported or disproved. University and think tank research tends to be fact based. This type of research leans heavily on quantitative research. I’m particularly fond of this type of research.
4. Business strategy consultants are several steps ahead of industry analysts. The research is more timely and relevant to what is going on in the market. This is because they need the research to assist the consulting side of the business. This research, like university and think tank reports, is narrowly focused. Readers of these products often have to read three or four reports to get a complete “big picture” view of market trends.
5. Vendor created reports are perfect for understanding a specific vendor’s product or service offering. They typically include case studies, product information, and business challenges and how their solution resolves the issue. Often the reports are vertical market oriented so readers can quickly find the solution that best meets their specific situation. Information seekers need to keep in mind that there is a heaping dose of marketing fro-fro associated with vendor created reports.
As I write this blog on the intersection of technology and sustainability for ColoradoBiz, I have found dozens of sources of information. These are a few of my favorites today, in no particular order, but expect that the list will grow over time:
1. McKinsey Quarterly — A free subscription based service. I like this because it focuses on business and business challenges.
2. National Renewable Energy Laboratory — A government site that covers all things sustainable from solar and wind to biomass and geothermal. An excellent source of information on the complexities and nuances of the different sustainable solutions.
3. MIT — A top-notch engineering and research university with a division focused on energy and sustainability. Also consider including Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, CU Boulder, and Colorado School of Mines to your list of universities with exceptional research into business and sustainability.
4. Transition Colorado — Transition is a movement that was started in the U.K. and has immigrated around the globe. This links to the local Colorado group. It emphasizes life style sustainability. There are a variety of resources, lectures, activities, etc to engage in on a local basis.
5. Smarter Planet — One of the few vendor specific sites I recommend. This site looks at sustainability from a holistic perspective. Standards, interoperability, security, identity management all these things must be considered when implement sustainable solutions across a continent, a state, a city, a business, or a home.
6. Wall Street Journal — This business journal often has well researched articles on business and sustainability that discuss the pros and cons of various solutions.
7. Brookings Institute — A free, subscription based site that provides exceptional, unbiased information on business, legislation, and sustainability. It covers many other topics, but these three relate specifically to this blog.
If you have a few exceptional sources of information of your own, I encourage you to share them here so we can learn together.
As a rule of thumb, the best way to evaluate the quality and integrity of research reports and commentary is to follow the money. The more distant the relationship between the funding and the product, service, or topic in review, the more likely the research will be unbiased and fact-based.