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“Forget Everything I Told You …”

February 7th, 2014 · No Comments

Is it possible to purposefully forget something you’ve recently been told? I would argue no — it’s close to impossible to purposefully “unknow” something. It stands to reason that everything you learn, in one way or another, ultimately contributes to the opinions you form.

Let’s take it one step further: What if you were expressly told that certain information was to be treated as confidential? Could you guarantee that the information shared with you in confidence would never influence your opinion?

Now it gets tougher, right? Lawyers have long debated the definition of “confidential” when it comes to forming opinions. And this uncertainty is probably responsible for the miles and miles of disclaimers written in tiny font and buried at the foot of contracts. That text exists because it’s not a simple question to answer.

This ambiguity around the meaning of “confidential” is at the crux of a discussion I had recently with a client. To summarize, it’s this: If a client shares confidential corporate information with an analyst during an inquiry call or meeting, can the analyst keep that information confidential, or will the very act of receiving the information influence the opinions s/he forms and shares with other clients? The short answer is yes to both.

This is how I responded: If specific information is expressly identified as confidential during analyst inquiry, our research organization has a documented process to ensure those specific details are not divulged outside of Gartner.

But the high-level concepts and ideas inherent in the information shared during inquiry may — together with other external sources of information — be leveraged and shared with other analysts, because it helps to inform our analysts’ point of view. The Research organization operates in a collaborative environment, where the open sharing of information and ideas leads to better analysis, predictions, findings and advice for clients.

A simple analogy would be a visit to the doctor. The doctor applies the high-level knowledge she has gained from other patients to help diagnose and treat you. She may even say she saw someone with a similar issue last week, but obviously never dream of sharing the specifics of the encounter- for example, telling you that it was your neighbor! Afterwards, she might consult with a colleague to get a second opinion and raise awareness within her practice of a recurring or common health issue in the community. The doctor will subsequently use the experience of treating you to help treat others. As a result, the doctor’s knowledge and overall effectiveness increases and awareness is raised in the greater medical community, all without ever compromising your confidence.

There are two key takeaways here:

First, confidentiality is and has always been a critically important issue at Gartner. It forms the foundation of our business model because we know trust matters. And we practice what we preach by rigorously training our analysts annually on how to treat our clients’ confidential information.

Second, because we respect and understand the meaning of confidentiality, we also provide guidance to our analysts about when to decline confidential information. When a client offers our analysts information that is classified as for “strictly personal and private use,” we instruct them to decline the offer, for the simple reason that once they “know” something, they cannot “unknow it.” We will agree to keep your confidence, but we can’t agree to something that we can’t uphold.

If you have any questions about how confidential information is handled by analysts in our research process, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

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