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Alternatives to Gartner Magic Quadrant & Forrester Wave

Jaikumar Vijayan Freelance writer

For years, enterprises with deep pockets have relied on analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester for advice when making major B2B software technology purchases. For prices ranging from $30,000 to $65,000, the firms provide access to comprehensive market research reports and expert opinion from their analysts.

Those unwilling or unable to foot the bill also had the option of purchasing reports like the Forrester Wave and Gartner's famous Magic Quadrant listing the top vendors and products in specific market categories. While the reports offered a thorough overview of the specific technology under consideration, they offered little by way of end-user feedback on the products.

Addressing that gap over the past few years is a slew of startups that have leveraged the power of crowdsourcing to deliver curated user reviews and ratings for procurement teams looking to validate a vendor's B2B software product claims or understand how well a product might work before purchasing.

The bigger ones boast millions of monthly visitors and are powered by thousands of curated user reviews, ratings guides, and in some cases sponsored vendor white papers. The popularity and disruptive nature of these services has been such that even Gartner has been forced to take notice. In July 2015, it purchased Nubera, a business app discovery network similar to Gartner in that it helps enterprises make decisions about technology purchases. What makes Nubera unique is its results, which includes user reviews, enterprise services, and other content—all crowdsourced.

Who are you going to trust?

Many Gartner and Forrester alternatives are relatively new, but most claim thousands of members, millions of visitors, and tens of thousands of expert reviews. While they fill an important gap in the market, there are some caveats to these alternatives. The biggest is that it's not always possible to verify the expertise of the users submitting reviews or their familiarity with the technology being reviewed—beyond what they themselves claim. Most sites require only a LinkedIn account to verify a user's organizational affiliation. The sites claim to authenticate and vet user reviews before posting them, but it's not always clear what sort of vetting actually happens.

[ Also see: Highlights from the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant for application security testing ]

An adequate number of user reviews and ratings aren't equally available for all products or product categories. Popular products, such as those from Microsoft or those based on Java are likely to have a far higher number of reviews than less popular product categories. So while the sites may be useful for some people, they may not always offer enough data to make procurement decisions easier for users.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the more popular crowdsourced sites that purport to help with B2B software purchase decisions:

1. G2 Crowd

With over 37,000 user reviews and a monthly readership of some 300,000 software buyers, G2 Crowd considers itself the "Yelp for business software." Three former executives from BigMachines, now owned by Oracle, launched G2 Crowd in 2012 with the purpose of giving software buyers a venue for finding unfiltered product reviews from peers. The Chicago-based company says its goal is to harness the collective wisdom of software users to help enterprise software buyers make more informed decisions when evaluating and purchasing similar products.

G2 Crowd uses a format similar to Gartner's Magic Quadrant called "The Grid" to score competing products and software vendors based on reviews and ratings from its user community. The factors that are considered when scoring a product or vendor include the likelihood that users of the product will recommend it to others, user ratings of specific product features, and the number of reviews it has received. To grade products, G2 Crowd also uses what it describes as "market presence" data, such as revenue growth, market share, and number of employees.

Reviews and ratings are available for a long list of product categories, including customer relationship management (CRM), human resources, analytics, content management, and IT security. Reviews are available at an even more granular level within categories. The CRM category, for example, includes ratings for analytics and forecasting tools, order and invoice management, sales contract management, and configurator and quotation software. Similarly, the analytics category includes business intelligence software, conversion rate optimization tools, and digital analytics products.

2. IT Central Station

IT Central Station provides a crowdsourced platform for connecting IT software buyers with peers, analysts, and experts willing to share their opinions on various software. It offers a venue for end users of technology to share their experiences along with expert opinions about specific software products other professionals can use when evaluating or purchasing software.

The site's founders, Russell Rothstein and Naftali Marcus, say that IT Central Station gives enterprises a better way to discover, evaluate, and select software tools by giving them access to the opinions of real users.

User reviews and ratings are available on a wide range of product categories, including business intelligence and analytics, business processes management, DevOps, security, social, and virtualization. For some of the categories, users can get free quotes. By answering a set of preliminary questions, potential buyers are matched with five vendors that offer the best pricing for that product.

Users who want to submit product reviews are provided with a guided review form. The site even offers a one-minute video guide to writing product reviews for those who need the help. Longer reviews, in the range of 400 to 600 words, are considered expert reviews and are profiled more prominently on the page for the associated product.

IT Central Station claims it takes special care to ensure that only legitimate users contribute to the site. To submit a review, users must be willing to share both the pros and the cons of the technology they're reviewing. Reviewers are also required to have used the product within the past 12 months.

3. Experts Exchange

Experts Exchange bills itself as a network that provides technology professionals with access to their peers, technical experts, educational content, and other material. The site's stated mission is to give technology professionals a way to solve difficult problems, get complex technical questions answered, and in the process, develop their own professional skills. Experts Exchange also offers networking and career opportunities through its Experts Exchange community, where members can create a personal profile, search for jobs, and communicate with peers.

A wide range of software-related topics are available for discussion on Experts Exchange, and each topic has its own forum. For example, there are forums for Microsoft Access, Microsoft Exchange, JavaScript, hardware, VMware, web servers, and more. The forum for hardware components includes more than 7,000 experts, while the Microsoft Access forum features 10,000 experts, and the Microsoft Excel forum features 6,000 experts. Members who have technical questions pertaining to a specific technology or procurement-related concerns can go to the appropriate forum, pose their question, and get responses from others using the same technology. For members looking to protect their confidentiality, Experts Exchange offers a 'private mode.'

4. WhalePath

WhalePath is a San Francisco-based company that helps organizations conduct research projects by leveraging a network of crowdsourced analysts. The company says it has more than 15,000 independent analysts and subject matter experts on tap who can help provide detailed market and research reports on a wide range of technology-related topics.

Some samples of the reports that WhalePath's crowdsourced analysts have generated for clients include a competitive analysis of the market for electric vehicles, a financial analysis of a publicly traded Chinese company, and a market analysis of the wearable tech market.

WhalePath offers customers a fairly straightforward way to post a research project request. To begin, a customer identifies the industry and market sector of interest and then describes their main research objective and expected deliverable. WhalePath then assigns an account manager to structure the request.

Once the project is launched, multiple analysts start competing for the highest payouts by submitting research data pertinent to the project. WhalePath claims that all of its analysts possess considerable skills in their area of expertise and either currently work or previously worked at large management consulting firms, hedge funds, and private equity firms. Once the analysts submit their reports, WhalePath reviews the content, validates the information, and presents the results to the client.

WhalePath lists several marquee customers on its website, including Siemens, Credit Suisse, Panasonic, and Disney.

5. TrustRadius

Austin-based TrustRadius is another site that gives technology buyers access to product reviews and ratings from actual users of the technology. The site claims more than 1.75 million visitors annually and a growth rate of 100 percent per year. Nine out of 10 visitors to the site are in the active purchasing cycle, with more than half ready to buy in the next 90 days, according to TrustRadius.

In addition to the user reviews and ratings offered by similar sites, TrustRadius offers detailed Buyer's Guides that let potential buyers quickly compare the pros and cons of different software tools within a product category. The guides are available for free and are based purely on data provided by actual product users. They are designed to give buyers a quick overview of the available product choices and to walk them through the advantages and disadvantages of each product as perceived by end users of the technology.

To present information to users about the leading products in each category, the company uses a Gartner Magic Quadrant-like chart format that it calls "TrustMaps." A user's "likelihood to recommend" a particular product plays a major role in how the product is rated on TrustMaps. More detailed product reports are available separately from TrustRadius for a fee.

Like other sites that offer similar capabilities, TrustRadius authenticates reviewers via LinkedIn. A TrustRadius expert also validates and authenticates each review before it's posted on the site.

6. Chaordix

Calgary, Canada-based Chaordix is a company that connects brands with what it describes as their most passionate customers. By doing so, Chaordix helps corporations drive greater brand affinity and mobilize online brand evangelists.

Chaordix provides two high-level services. The "Community Innovation" service helps corporations unlock innovation through customer participation. The service lets corporations connect with their customers from around the world and engage with them on an ongoing basis, tapping into their ideas and suggestions for product improvement. The "Crowd Activation" service helps organizations connect with their fans on social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In addition to helping organizations keep an eye on customer sentiment, the service is also designed to help organizations ferret out ideas for new products or ways to improve existing products and processes by listening to customer feedback.

American Airlines, which Chaordix lists on its website as a marquee customer, engaged the firm to try to gain a better understanding of the needs and requirements of its most high-value customers. Chaordix helped American Airlines establish a customer forum of representatives of high-value customers from around the world. Chaordix says that American Airlines used the hundreds of thousands of customer submissions, comments, and votes received via the forum to make changes to its customer experience strategy.

7. Capterra

Like numerous other sites that leverage crowdsourcing to give technology buyers access to end-user reviews and ratings, Capterra claims to help thousands of businesses and nonprofits find the right software. Unlike the others, however, it's a completely free service. Technology buyers can browse and compare software from multiple vendors and get advice and information through buying guides, blog posts, and user reviews. Capterra even offers its own software experts to guide buyers and recommend a shortlist of products based on their requirements, at no charge. Capterra makes its money from the software vendor that the user ultimately purchases from.

Technology buyers can use Capterra to browse for guides, user reviews, and blogs in more than 300 software categories. In addition to listing the software by category, the site also allows users to compare and contrast software packages by industry, and in some cases by application. For example, buyers can use Capterra to look for a list of the top church management products or top tools for construction, medical practice, performance management, and automated testing.

Since launching 14 years ago, Capterra has amassed over 25,000 user reviews across all of its product categories and says its site receives thousands of visits from business software buyers each month. The company boasts an impressive roster of clients, including Coca-Cola, Walmart, Warner Brothers, and The Home Depot.

8. Comparz

Comparz provides curated user reviews and rankings focused largely on the needs of small and midsize businesses. Like other online services in this category, Comparz aims to educate buyers through a combination of user reviews and ratings, sponsored vendor white papers, and what the company calls "Decision Guides." User reviews are available for more than two-dozen product categories, including accounting, project management, enterprise resource planning, expense management, mobile marketing, social, CRM, and web hosting services. User reviews are available for multiple products under each category. In each case, Comparz shares the user's demographic information, such as company size, industry, and job title, so buyers can identify reviewers who are most closely aligned to their own situation.

Comparz says its Decision Guides are designed to walk technology buyers from small and midsize businesses through the intricacies of the product evaluation and assessment process. The guides offer a detailed explanation of the important features of specific applications, pricing data, interoperability with other applications, the quality of customer support, ease of installation, and the ease or difficulty of customizing a product.

The company's Decision Guide for CRM offers small and midsize businesses advice on how to identify whether they need a CRM suite and assesses their knowledge of CRM technologies. It also explains what to look for and what questions to ask when evaluating products from multiple vendors.

9. GetApp

GetApp provides what is perhaps the strongest evidence of the phenomenal popularity of business app discovery networks fueled by user reviews and ratings. Launched in 2010, Nubera is a Gartner-owned company focused on providing research programs and user-generated reviews, with editorial reviews on thousands of cloud-based software, mobile application, and legacy enterprise-software products.

The Nubera Network of business apps and software discovery platforms includes GetApp, GetApp Lab, and several other properties. AppStorm focuses on native operating systems and mobile environments, and AppAppeal is for users searching for the latest applications.

GetApp is focused largely on software-as-service (SaaS) solutions for small and midsize businesses and for business units within large enterprises. It offers user and editorial reviews on more than 3,000 apps, with categories covering business intelligence, analytics, collaboration, customer management, operations, sales, and human resources. The site has an easy-to-use interface for finding software products of interest, and users who are unsure about what they require can use GetApp's AppFinder tool to get customized app recommendations. Users can also browse through top applications, new applications, and free applications in different product categories. GetApp Lab delivers more detailed research, insights, and trend data for organizations that want to keep abreast of the latest technology changes in their area of business.

10. Ombud

Ombud's name derives from the word ombudsman, and like one, Ombud acts as a sort of intermediary between technology procurement teams and stakeholders within the organization. Established in 2011, Ombud has the ability to gather pertinent information and feedback from all parties using a specific technology within an enterprise, giving procurement teams a better idea of business requirements when making their next purchase.

Ombud says it provides a platform that anyone within an organization can use to get feedback on the pros and cons of a particular technology. The idea, according to Ombud, is to provide a single source of the truth, gathered from across the enterprise, so procurement teams can plan their purchases more intelligently and cost-efficiently. The company claims that its platform can help enterprises whittle down their technology procurement cycle from 12 to 18 months to just two or three months.

Ombud is currently available for operations teams and sales teams.

Disruption by demand

Online services that match software buyers with curated user reviews and ratings are addressing a clear market need. But enterprises need to be aware of the caveats when using such services. For many department-level projects and for many small and midsize businesses, the reviews, ratings, and user guides found on these sites can be useful in identifying, eliminating, evaluating, and selecting products. The end-user feedback and opinions can sometimes help procurement teams identify issues that they likely wouldn't have been able to find through a consulting engagement.

But enterprises embarking on major strategic software initiatives would still benefit from professional consulting and advice from the pros. Professional firms can help companies get a handle on the big picture and offer advice on how to ensure that software investments are aligned with business needs. However useful crowdsourced sites might be, corporate boards and C-level executives may be more comfortable getting advice from technology consulting professionals before investing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on technology.

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