IT Central Station Launches–A “Yelp for Enteprise IT”

This one from the “trying to bring something from the consumer world into the enterprise but failing” category. IT Central Station is launching today and billing itself as the first tech product review site for the Fortune 1000. The idea is simple – much like Yelp, people can list and review products – but in this case rather than a restaurant you might spend $100 on, the idea of IT central station is to review multi-million dollar pieces of mission critical technology. Yes indeedy, founder Russell Rothstein believes a site like IT Central Station will make a difference to enterprise buying habits. It’s an idea directly out of the “It’s Like This For That” category (click the link, it’s hilarious).

IT Central Station is modeled on the consumer model and hence the site functionality is similar to that you’d expect from, for example, a consumer electronics review site. Site features include;

  • Private social network for the end user community: Prevents vendors from posting reviews of their products or competitor products
  • User validation: Validates the authenticity of users based on their company email address and cross-references with LinkedIn and other data sources
  • User privacy: Promotes candid discussions and recommendations within the community by enabling users to post anonymously
  • Professional social graph: Uncovers a user’s professional connections with expertise in products and services of interest
  • Over 4,000 enterprise-class products and services from over 1,400 vendors: Includes the largest and most up-to-date catalog of technology products and services—including cloud, SaaS, mobile and Big Data solutions—that are used by enterprises

The kicker is that the site is free to end users but generates revenue by charging vendors a listing fee – the company is pitching this as an opportunity for vendors to “gather candid feedback from real users, invite their happy customers to share success stories with the community, and participate in relevant discussions taking place within a high quality community of real users”.

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MyPOV

I’m all for disrupting the traditional analyst marketplace – companies like Gartner charge massive fees on both the buy and the sell side and, while they undeniably provide a deep analysis of the marketplace, it’s my assessment that the analysis produced by a new breed of agile analysis firms – companies like Rishidot Research, Constellation Research Group and Altimeter – is disrupting the traditional analysis model. But reducing advice down to an uber lightweight, consumer style site is misguided in my view.

Beyond the base validity of the idea, and whether enterprise buyers would ever even consider using a service like this, I’d be worried about vendors gaming the system, while the company talks about its rigid checks and balances – the fact that anonymous reviews are allowed, along with the idea that vendors can pay and hence potentially gain some unfair advantage on the site, is worrying.

The bottom line is that enterprise requirements are very complex – there’s a reason that in my consulting life I do a lot of deep (and, yes, oftentimes expensive) work with both buyers and sellers of technology. It’s not simply a case of saying “is Chatter better than Yammer” for example – it’s about understanding a particular company’s situation and needs.

I’m not sold on the IT Central Station idea I’m afraid.

1 Comment
  • Ben, I appreciate your taking time to write about IT Central Station, but I’d like to correct some misconceptions that came out in your piece.

    Our vision is that social networks and communities for B2B technology buyers has and will continue to be a hybrid of online interactions and offline interactions. Online professional social networking is most valuable when it can strengthen people’s offline networks. When we interviewed technology decision makers before starting our company we found that ironically in the age of LinkedIn, people today have weaker offline networks and smaller rolodexes – for instance, they are going to fewer events and have fewer opportunities to meet peers. These offline networks are critical when in the decision making process for important enterprise technology purchases.

    We built IT Central Station as a community site, not just a product review site, that facilitates more interactions with peers – both online and offline. On the site you find people who have reviewed products that interest you. Then you use private messaging to connect with them, trade phone numbers, set up a meeting, etc and then you can have those important, frank discussions about working with the vendor, licensing, pricing, etc that are better conducted off-line and are critical for B2B technology decision making.

    Our positioning IT Central Station as the Yelp for Enterprise IT was intended to communicate at a high level that just as Yelp and other online review sites have disrupted the B2C buying process, so too IT Central Station is disrupting the B2B tech buying process. However, there are fundamental differences between B2C review sites and IT Central Station. This post for some reason overly focused on the Yelp analogy without considering the community and social networking aspects.

    Regarding your comments about whether we can remain vendor-neutral, there are many other businesses and industries that provide a level playing field while generating sales from the individual businesses they cover. The companies that have succeeded to maintain both objectivity and a profitable business are those that have been strident in building and enforcing their internal policies. We are committed to doing so.

    Thanks again for taking an interest in our new B2B social networking site for the IT community.

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