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Forrester alters 'integrity policy'

The researcher bans tech companies from publicizing the results of the Forrester studies they commission.

Forrester Research has forbidden technology companies that commission its product-comparison studies from publicizing their results.

Forrester spelled out the change to its "integrity policy" in a statement from its chairman and chief executive it posted recently on its Web site.

The new policy follows the release last month of a study by Forrester unit Giga Research, paid for by Microsoft, that concluded that companies spent less when developing certain programs with the Windows operating system than with Linux. Giga polled just 12 companies for the study, which led some critics to question the report's statistical relevance.

Another recent Forrester study, commissioned by software maker PeopleSoft, supported PeopleSoft's claims that it provides a higher level of customer service than its rivals, including Oracle. PeopleSoft published a press release on the study while defending itself against an unwelcome buyout attempt by Oracle.

"We stand by the integrity of both studies," Forrester CEO George Colony said in the statement. "However, we erred in allowing those clients to publicize the research findings."

Research commissioned by a single company makes up only 2 percent of Forrester's annual revenue, Colony said in an interview. Most revenue comes from subscriptions for independent reports and advice, he said.

The objectivity of IT research companies, which rely on the patronage of the technology companies they cover, has been brought into question periodically over the years. The issue recently resurfaced when a string of e-mails from a group of Oracle executives made its way into the hands of reporters during the discovery phase of an Oracle lawsuit against PeopleSoft.

The e-mails, which pertained to Oracle's controversial bid to acquire PeopleSoft, shed fresh light on the pressure technology companies apply to analysts for favorable coverage. In an e-mail from an Oracle executive to an analyst at a well-known research company, Oracle accused the analyst of being biased in favor of PeopleSoft and asked what the researcher would do if PeopleSoft were to "go away." Another Oracle e-mail string recounted how an analyst at another research firm had agreed to update a research note on the bid and let Oracle review it before publishing it.

Forrester's Colony said he's well aware of the conflicts of interest in the IT research industry, but he said his company's integrity policy helps Forrester manage those conflicts. For instance, all research is reviewed by numerous analysts before it's published with an eye toward detecting any lack of objectivity, he said. The company derives about 35 percent of its revenue from technology companies in the form of both subscriptions and commissioned research, Colony said.

"It takes a long time to build a name in this business," Colony said. "Our value proposition is based on independence. If you lose that, you lose your value."