Thought leadership by numbers

I blame Cisco. When the US network equipment provider brought out its Visual Networking Index (VNI), I wonder if it realised quite how widely quoted it would be? I reckon Cisco probably thought it would be a useful piece of marketing communications collateral, but surely it could not have realised the affect it would have on the way technology companies do their marketing.

At the Huawei Global Analyst Summit in Shenzhen in April, the Chinese ICT vendor presented the second of its reports into the ICT status of nations: the Global Connectivity Index (GCI). While not explicitly taking Cisco’s VNI as a model (the value of the VNI is its forecasts), the GCI is clearly an attempt to position Huawei as the de facto expert source for data that compares countries on a broad range of measures. Those measures include telco infrastructure investment as a % of GDP, number of app downloads per person, average broadband downstream speed and number of software developers per capita. (The GCI also has another purpose, pointed out by Huawei Chairman and current CEO Eric Xu: to helping lobbying efforts with governments around the world to increase investment in network infrastructure – I suspect by attacking a political weak spot: national pride.)

The methodology, articulated in a 60-page glossy booklet Huawei handed out to the 500 assembled analysts and journalist at the summit, looks sound; and the measures evaluated are comprehensive. The dimensions of the Index are supply, demand, experience and potential, and there are 38 separate indicators in total (though values of some have had to be estimated by reference to global averages and benchmarks).

Applying the Huawei model to the data results in GCI rankings that Huawei clusters by analysing GDP per capita. They show the US, Sweden and Singapore at the top of the list for developed economies (positioned in the “leaders” cluster), with Chile, the UAE and China at the top of the developing economies (and in the “followers” cluster). Interestingly Huawei places Italy and Spain in the “followers” cluster. There’s plenty more analysis presented too.

New IT indicators reflect corporate change of emphasis

This year is only the second GNI, but there have already been big changes to the scale and scope of the GCI compared with last year: IT indicators have been added to the previous communications-based indicators; and the number of countries evaluated has been increased. Fortunately, each year’s report stands on its own as a useful source of comparison between countries. Overall, it’s an impressive desk research achievement, and I expect it will be referred to widely.

The lure of numbers for marketing and influencing is well known – journalists love numbers, for instance, and policy makers and regulators demand them. So it makes a lot of sense to promote them when you’ve got them.

ICT maturity

On a smaller scale, Innovation Observatory has done something similar, by developing a model of ICT maturity for companies (not countries). Our model also has four dimensions: ICT strategy and processes, services and applications, hardware and telecoms / connectivity and multiple indicators per dimension, and is based on numbers (though these are derived from primary survey data rather than desk research and normalization effort. We too have produced an evaluation of the ICT maturity of businesses at a national level, but built bottom up rather than top-down. The same method could be rolled out across other countries: our model is for the UK market.

Of course, it’s what you do with the numbers that is ultimately important – they are only a means to an end. In Huawei’s case, it’s to lobby governments, indirectly stimulating demand from operators and IT service providers for ICT products and services. But it’s also to raise brand visibility. The company is smart enough to know that the more well-known the brand, the higher the price that can be commanded in consumer markets, and the more RFIs you receive from enterprises. And in that respect, Huawei’s use of numbers for marketing communication is probably at least as powerful as Cisco’s.

So why do I blame Cisco? Well, before it started something that many other well-resourced companies now follow, the people producing this type of analysis were commercial analysts. But we did it for a fee.

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