If you are a fan of Tech Field Day or a frequent viewer of my blog posts, you know that I’m somewhat skeptical of the majority of analyst firms out there. At best, many of them function solely as a mouthpiece regurgitating old information to remind CxOs that the decisions they made 2-3 years ago were the right ones. At worst, they are the paid shills for companies looking for market share and attention. Thanks to a convenient vendor event, I got to spend some time picking the brains of many of my colleagues about topics like this, and I find I’m not alone. Independence and objectivity are always important, and as I’ve said in the past when talking about an independent testing company idea, it can be hard to maintain in an environment where you are so reliant on the vendors to provide support and funding for the things you want to do. After all, not everyone can be as rich as Richard Branson. I think, however, that I might have finally hit on an idea that could work for me.
The movie Patton holds a clue to my devious intentions. Within, the general describes a scene from ancient Rome. Conquering generals were awarded a triumph, a giant parade through the heart of Rome where the population would shower the hero with adulation and praise. For those very successful generals, this could soon become a source of feelings of superiority. After all, here are all these people telling you how great you are. Sooner or later, you’re going to start believing your own press. According to Patton, however, it was common practice for a slave to stand behind the general and whisper in his ear every so often, “Remember, fame is fleeting…” This is the “what have you done for me lately” mentality so prevalent today. People quick to forget your successes but take a very long time to forgive your failures. No where is this more apparent to me that in the audition process for the TV show American Idol. For the five of you that might not be familiar with this particular program, it’s essentially a serialized talent competition/reality show. The real interesting part for most people isn’t the competition itself. It’s the auditions for the first two to three weeks of each season. This is where you get to see the people that turn up and try out. Many of these people have absolutely no business singing. At all. For whatever reason, whether it be believing their own press or the false praise of others, these people truly think they have amazing talent where none actually exists. These “trainwrecks” drive a lot of the views for the first few episodes because people take some kind of perverse delight in watching failure. Once the trainwrecks are finished, the real competition can start.
I’ve always said to myself that what these trainwrecks need is a harsh dose of reality. I’ve been gifted in my life that I’ve been able to have people tell me that maybe I wasn’t best suited to be a singer or a baseball player. They encouraged me to work toward realistic goals, like being a snarky network rock star. However, some of these American Idol contestants don’t have that. They go right on believing they can sing like a real rock star until they get in front of the cameras and Simon Cowell hammers them with reality in front of the whole nation. What I had originally proposed was a service that did much the same thing, only not so public. For those people that care enough to tell these contestants that maybe singing isn’t what they were cut out for but can’t bring themselves to do it for whatever reason, I would gladly offer my services in their stead. I can call people up and let them know that the prevailing opinion is that while they might sound good in the shower, they really shouldn’t try to make a living singing old show tunes in front of a harsh judging panel.
My conversations as of late have finally made the lightbulb go off and join these two disparate ideas together. That’s what bothers me to a degree about the analyst firms. They never really have anything bad to say. The praise is heaped on by the ladle full in many cases. Everyone has a positive place in the mystical polygon. There is no “suck” quadrant. Yet, when we expose these technologies to real deployments and real workloads, they start breaking and causing all manner of problems. What we really need is a Reality As A Service offering. Myself, along with a group of talented individuals, will pour over your product offering and tear it to shreds. These reports are going to be decidedly negative. We’re going to tell you all the things that are wrong with your widget. Just like the slave in the chariot in Rome, we’re going to remind the vendors that all the praise being offered by the crowd is fleeting. Instead, in three months time the only thing people will care about is how broken your product is. By contracting with Reality As A Service, we will tell you up front all the things you don’t want to hear and the regular analysts don’t want to tell you. You may not want to hear it. You may not like us very much after we’re finished. But, you won’t be able to tell us we’re absolutely wrong. And you will then have a list of things to work on to make your product better.
It’s not unlike submitting an article or a book to an editor for proofreading. It think I have a fairly decent grasp of the English language. However, watching a professional editor slice-and-dice my work reminds me how far I still have to go. I don’t hate the editor for pointing out my mistakes. I make myself better by recognizing those problems and correcting them. That’s what Reality As A Service can help fix. Bad GUI interfaces, horrible design decisions, and academic delusion with the way things operate outside of an incubation vacuum. Does your interface still rely on Java or Flash? We’ll tell you. How about requiring a $50,000 license for a feature that should really be free at this point? We’re going to bring that up too. And why on earth doesn’t this use the same standard protocol that the rest of the world has used for the last five years?!? That’ll be in the report as well. In the end, rather than hear how great you are, you’ll be reminded of all the things you should be concentrating on. Reality As A Service won’t let you lose sight of all the important things because others are too busy telling you how great the unimportant things are.
Does this idea have a future? Not likely. People that create things don’t take kindly to being told their widgets aren’t up to snuff. Just like the American Idol contestants that come out of the audition after being smacked in the face with reality and say, “I don’t know what the professional talent judge was thinking. My mom tells me that I’m the best singer she’s heard in the general store in the last fifty years!” They can’t accept criticism when they are absolutely convinced they are right. But for a small portion of the people, the ones that can accept constructive feedback and use it as a tool to better themselves and the products they make, there might just be some hope.
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Reality as a service is such a great idea. Every field should have its own reality police. Writing grant proposals sure gives you a nice healthy dose of reality. When your asking people for money, those reality checkers really help to put all of your grand aspirations into perspective. Though the project is certainly better for it.
Holy smokes Batman, sign me up! I’d give up my posh job and gladly come to work for you at such a snark-o-company. I’d want the title, “Wi-Fi Watchdog.” 😛 This blog was so crazy-spot-on that I dang-near started dancing while reading it. W00t!
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Tom, they are called consulting firms – vendor agnostic design houses that are basically supposed to cherry pick technology for clients. There’s little to no money in this (individually there is, but the companies themselves are smaller). There’s a ton of job satisfaction too, but politics plays a huge role, and staying truly “agnostic” is impossible. In fact, you can critique a vendor top to bottom, yet still have to select that vendor for your client due other business reasons.
Many of these consulting firms offer project management services in additional to managing pre-project planning, design, and specifications. It’s a much needed and relied upon service, and it might be right up your alley.