Gartner analyst under fire over adult Web site

Issues of transparency were raised last week in Hong Kong when it was revealed that a Gartner Group analyst commented on an adult web site in which he was an investor. While Gartner’s reputation hasn’t been much tarnished, according to customers of the research firm, the Asia-Pacific management has received a reprimand from the group’s U.S. headquarters.

One of Gartner Group’s Hong Kong-based research directors, Joe Sweeney, acknowledged that he was a founding member and investor in an adult site he has praised in commentaries made in media outlets, including CNN and Asiaweek. Sweeney was unavailable for comment.

The adult site, operated by JadeCool Ltd. and based in the sex strip of Angeles City in the Philippines, is a virtual go-go bar where visitors can watch women dance and chat with them.

While Sweeney had claimed that he had disclosed his interest in the site to the media, Gartner’s U.S. headquarters issued a statement clarifying that its corporate policy “has never allowed such investments, regardless of disclosure.”

Further, the corporate office rebuked the firm’s Asia management team by saying it had “incorrectly represented Gartner policy” with earlier statements indicating there was no conflict of interest.

Gartner’s Asia-Pacific management had also initially said its analysts were allowed to have outside business interests to gain insight into specialized industries; the corporate office later corrected the statement.

Gartner Group’s U.S. office said that Sweeney has been directed to immediately and entirely divest his interest in the Web site.

Many local executives of IT firms declined to give comments on the incident due to its sensitivity. Those who spoke with Computerworld Hong Kong expressed disappointment with regard to the analyst’s professionalism, but said it does not affect the credibility of Gartner as a whole.

“It’s just one guy compared to all the research work they put in. There are a couple of thousands of analysts (in Gartner). When you buy research from Gartner, you buy research from everybody. They called it a community service. So it doesn’t affect me. My interests are in terms of the results of the research,” said Allan Tan, Asia marketing director of Hitachi Data Systems.

“This incident damages (the analyst’s) reputation but only his reputation. I don’t take it against everybody that works for (Gartner).” However in terms of ethics, Tan said he is disappointed.

“It is certainly unethical. (Sweeney) shouldn’t be promoting the company,” said Tan, who was an IT services analyst with the Gartner Group in Hong Kong from 1995 to 1997.

“It makes me disappointed at the professionalism of the person, that individual. But I don’t blame the company for one person’s mistake,” he continued.

Eric Yeung, Greater China country manager of Vignette, also shared the view that this is a stand alone incident.

“It’s an individual case and shouldn’t impact the operation of the company,” Yeung said. “Yet it does serve as a stain on Sweeney’s professionalism and it’s inevitable that, at least for myself, I might be suspicious (whether there are going to be such conflicts) in the future when I see his name in certain reports,” Yeung said.

Judging from his experience working in the company, Hitachi’s Tan said he expected Sweeney would be “phased out” by Gartner, even though there has so far been no such indication given by the company.

“I think eventually he will be forced out by the company. Gartner at the U.S. level is very strict about these things, especially when people are damaging its reputation,” Tan said.