OPINION10 December 2009

The long tail for tech firms


The recession has been acutely felt by MR technology providers. While many are now reporting things have seemed brighter since the summer, brave talk of MR firms using the recession to get leaner and fitter on the tech front is now starting to look like bravado.

We will only know whether we were at the turning point of an L, a W or a U when looking back. Nevertheless, my own unscientific poll of firms I’ve spoken to in the past few weeks confirms that, although the recession has been acutely felt by MR technology providers, things seem to have been looking up slightly since people got back to work after the summer. Some tech firms have been busy, even very busy, and some have continued to grow despite the downturn. Being inexpensive or on a short track to adoption seems to help here. Another factor seems to be the needs-led solution: an agency client needs a custom panel,  a web-based analysis tool, a dashboard – reactive rather than strategic purchases.

At the same time, others have been putting on a brave face, weathering out the storm and continuing to develop their products. Exhibition organisers are going to have a tough of it time next year. Tech providers are wincing at the costs of going to the big shows at a time when very few are buying. For one, just the charge for electricity levied by the venue was sufficient to wipe out all profit.

Even the firms that have remained busy are reporting that it is taking much longer to close the deal. People will talk for 18 months or longer about a £25K order but it never seems to materialise. Others find the orders they do land have been scaled back considerably from what they were asked to bid for.

It makes me feel that MR firms are still not approaching their technology from a strategic point of view. As I reported in June, several research companies at CASRO were seeing a slowdown in work as being the opportunity they needed to get their processes and tools in order for when life got busy again. Is this opportunity being squandered?

There are many tales out there of firms never coming to a decision, seeing almost everyone and rejecting them all, or having virtually an annual review and still sticking with the same set of ageing or complicated tools that require high levels of skill and effort to operate them. This is symptomatic of technology decisions being delegated down to those in the organisation who are perceived to understand them: unfortunately it is often those who have the greatest investment in being indispensable masters of the dark arts who hold most sway. Perhaps they did reach the right decision, though I’m often unconvinced. But even if they did, I’m often unconvinced it’s for the right reasons.