Quick Recap of Gartner Conference 2023

ABSTRACT: I got energized walking the show floor at the Gartner Data & Analytics event last month and learned a few things about the future of our industry.

As a winter-bound Bostonian, I enjoyed attending the Gartner Data & Analytics conference in sunny Orlando last month, although as per usual for industry events, I spent 99% of the time corralled in windowless meeting rooms and exhibit halls. Such is the life of a conference-goer!

Since this was one of the first major events I’ve attended since the pandemic, I spent most of my time on the show floor enjoying flesh-and-blood encounters with people in the vendor community thatI’ve only seen on Zoom calls for the past three years.

In all, I spoke with 40 of the 144 vendors that exhibited at the event. I focused most of my attention on data catalog, data observability, and business intelligence vendors whose technology aligns with my 2023 research agenda. But I also made a point to meet with long-time friends and acquaintances in the vendor community, some of whom weren’t exhibiting but couldn’t resist the pull of Gartner’s gravity. 

If you are looking for a recap of the educational sessions led by Gartner analysts, check out this insightful blog by Malcolm Hawker, who is head of data strategy at Profisee. (Yes, and I talked briefly with Malcolm at the event and enjoyed his recap, which was surprisingly hard-hitting regarding Gartner.)

My observations focus on the state of technology and vendor viability post pandemic, post economic slowdown, and post-Silicon Valley Bank scare. Here you go: 

• Data Catalogs. Data catalogs are rapidly expanding their footprint, using metadata to support a variety of applications: self-service, data governance, privacy & security, and data operations workflows. Rather than just collecting static metadata, they are applying rules and AI algorithms to the content to automate workflows, generate alerts, auto-tag and link assets, and foster collaboration, among other things. As such, data catalogs are embedding themselves deep into the fabric of data organizations.

There is also a debate among vendors whether data catalogs will become embedded in platforms or remain standalone since they need to integrate data from all systems. My answer is “yes” to both. Vendor answers depend on whether they are stand-alone or embedded, no surprise!

• Data Marketplaces. On a related note, I’ve been speculating that data catalogs will eventually morph into data marketplaces to support the frictionless publication of data products. I ventured this hypothesis with several data catalog vendors, including one that started life as a data marketplace, but my theory didn’t seem to catch fire. That’s too bad. This leaves the gate open for pure-play data marketplace vendors, such as Narrative.io, Harbr Data, Revelate, and Dawex,  which have really cool provisioning technology to steal the segment.

• GPT. Most vendors are figuring out a way to incorporate ChatGPT and other generative AI platforms based on large language models into their products. BI vendors such as ThoughtSpot are using it to support natural language queries; data vendors to generate better more dynamic schema; data catalog vendors to write asset, table, and column descriptions; and analytics vendors to generate business questions from data sets and validated answers. It’s clear that GPT, like AI in general, is going to be built into data & analytics tools to improve their usability, automation, and productivity. Perhaps the bigger question is how data & analytics teams will use it to improve their operations.

• Leadership and Change. Ok, I did sit in on one or two Gartner sessions, notably the morning keynotes. The opening keynote by Kurt Schlegel and Rita Sallam—two of my favorite Gartner analysts—focused on what I consider the most important ingredients to data & analytics success: people, process, and leadership. Thank you, Kurt and Rita!! They also spent time discussing the importance of defining and measuring value as a core competency. 

Change management was the focus of the Wednesday keynote with featured speaker Shankar Vendantum, host of the popular Hidden Brain podcast. This is also a critically important capability for data leaders who need to master change to succeed. As much as I love Shankar’s podcast, I didn’t think he added a lot of new insights about to how to effect change in organizations. His prescription was to 1) change things quickly and take the old stuff away 2) praise good behavior and ignore bad behavior, and 3) get people to teach others the new way to inculcate change.

Ignoring bad behavior is an innovative idea, if hard to do. I remember hearing an NPR story about a woman who studied indigenous mothers in Canada and discovered that they calmly ignored their children’s temper tantrums, chalking them up to the fact that they are not fully formed humans. Also, relevant to change, these native women didn’t raise their children alone; they were supported by other mothers who had the same values, approaches, and rules to raising children. Change is easy when everyone is doing it. It takes a village to raise a child and implement new technology! 

• Financial squeeze. There was consensus on the show floor that many of the venture-backed vendors exhibiting at the event will need to reduce spending significantly in the coming year in response to the precipitous drop in valuations caused by the sharp rise in interest rates, which also caught Silicon Valley Bank asleep at the wheel, further spooking the venture community. The consensus was that big established startups will continue to get funding but new A, B, and even C round ventures will find it harder to raise money. They will either have to slash their burn rate in half, take venture loans, or use other means to keep cash flowing without taking a life-threatening “down round”. I suspect there will be far fewer than 144 vendors exhibiting at the Gartner event a year from now. 

• Gartner lament. One thing that most senior leaders complained about was the extremely high cost of exhibiting at Gartner conferences. Some said they’ve had enough and won’t exhibit next year. But even before they finished speaking, a lieutenant was quick to inject, “Yes, but we’ll be here next year.” Gartner has a literal chokehold on the vendor community and few like working with their sales and support teams, it seems. Nonetheless most feel obligated to pay and attend and pay some more. Only the smallest vendors or foreign companies failed to show this year, but even these sent a representative to work the show floor.  

• Aging Out. One analyst relations person I spoke with said a colleague keeps a list of the ages of Gartner analysts and the average age is creeping higher, with some analysts well into their 70s. Thus, the person predicted there will be a massive turnover among Gartner analysts in the next several years. But that doesn’t mean they will disappear. Long-time Gartner analyst Merv Adrian announced his retirement at the show, but both he and Philip Russom, a former TDWI colleague who retired from Gartner last year, will continue working independently. Philip attended this year’s Gartner event and I suspect we’ll see Merv next year! Once you’ve basked in the Gartner limelight, it’s hard to give it up. Move over Tom Brady!!

Wayne Eckerson

Wayne Eckerson is an internationally recognized thought leader in the business intelligence and analytics field. He is a sought-after consultant and noted speaker who thinks critically, writes clearly and presents...

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