the power of many

This Austin startup thinks it can help IT leaders help each other

Ah, the IT department. Relegated to the role of resident crank, IT will never be the sexiest branch of the company tree. It is, however, absolutely integral to the survival of the business, particularly in an age of increasing online security threats. But the problem is technology is no longer centrally managed in a company. In an age when any marketing manager can implement new software in 10 minutes, IT leaders find themselves faced with a mess of adoption, maintenance, and integration issues that didn’t exist before.

Austin-based Wisegate believes it can shine new light into this mess. Part knowledge community and part analyst firm, Wisegate is an invitation-only, crowdsourced collaboration service for senior IT leaders. Founder Sara Gates believes that hands-on advice from fellow IT professionals is better suited to solving today’s constantly evolving tech problems than “ivory-tower analyst research.”

Knowledge communities can quickly become crowded with content, people, and conversations, making it hard to find exactly what you’re looking for, or if you can even trust it when you do. Quora and LinkedIn are great examples of this. Wisegate thinks its advantage is that it’s composed of one very specific part of one role. When someone poses a question, only a couple of triggers are needed for the algorithm to kick into gear. It suggests other members best qualified to answer that question, even proactively suggesting people who may need the answer but don’t know it yet.

Resource and Collection Modules

More interesting is the role the community plays in crowdsourcing research. When two to three people ask the same question, that topic is put on a watch list. After six mentions, Wisegate labels it a trend and devotes more research, roundtables, and surveying to it. The result is an impressive and constantly growing resource library built from what is essentially an ongoing focus group. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship with an Escher’s-staircase spin—an infinite loop of questions turned into answers turned into resources.

To avoid bias, vendors aren’t allowed in Wisegate. Invite-only sales are to companies rather than individuals, with the average member at director-level and above. Wisegate cited just over 500 client companies as subscribers.

“I view it as a triangle, with the CIO at the top and lower level staff at the bottom,” Gates said. “There’s a big piece in the middle—those senior in their career and very strategic, who are underserved. That’s our market.”

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Currently raising a Series B, Wisegate is revenue-positive and touts a 90 percent renewal rate. While it is focused solely on IT for the next couple of years, the company intends to apply the algorithm to other professions. (HR reps and controllers were two roles Gates mentioned.)

According to a 2014 survey of senior IT leaders by CA Technologies, 35 percent of IT spending now occurs outside of the IT department, a number that is expected to grow. And only 11 percent view IT’s role as a developer of new, innovative services. The way technology is now purchased and used has big implications for IT; they must become senior advisors who influence and guide IT investments or risk becoming obsolete.

Three of the biggest problems for IT departments these days – cloud management, mobility, and big data – require the kind of strategic thinking that can save them from extinction. IT leaders can provide the guidance needed to take new solutions through concept to deployment, positioning themselves as progenitors of emerging trends.

In order to do this effectively, they need to capitalize on the expertise within their organizations. A product like Wisegate seems to fit the bill well. Its main challenge is its competition: analyst firms, who are deeply entrenched and have deep pockets. Experienced tech analysts know the right questions to ask and have an established network of resources and relationships from which to pull.

Can crowdsourcing compare to this? Once disseminated in other professions, could the Wisegate algorithm upend the analyst industry? Likely not. But for small and mid-sized companies that want to stay current in their tech without breaking the bank, it’s worth checking out.