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Although it looks and feels like a magazine, the Economist more often refers to itself as a newspaper. It is one of world’s the smartest, most intelligent and enlightening publications. I don’t always (maybe not even often) agree with its editorial point of view, but it argues well and doesn’t patronise readers or wimp out and take the soft option. It has my respect.

I’m not so sure I can say the same any more about the Economist Intelligence Unit. In the past I’ve seen some cogent, well-researched and extremely informative articles from the EIU, but one recent report has caused me to seriously question the group’s judgement and integrity.

According to the press release promoting a report entitled Enterprise Knowledge Workers: Understanding
Risks and Opportunities:

Knowledge workers often seek unconventional and potentially risky “workarounds” to complete tasks, says Economist Intelligence Unit


Knowledge work extends broadly across all industrial sectors, and characterises enterprise processes up and down the value chain.


To do their jobs, knowledge workers use the gamut of different media and technology available to them.

Talk about ‘the bleeding obvious’.

There’s plenty more of these mind-blowing revelations elsewhere in the press release. The good news is there is no charge to download this ground-breaking document as your copy has already been paid for by SAP who sponsored the ‘research’.

And what’s the pay-off for SAP? Well, according to Doug Merritt, executive vice president of Business User Development and corporate officer of the SAP Group. “The results of this study confirm the importance of giving knowledge workers increased, secure access to the information in the applications they use today.“

Guess what SAP sells?

You’ve got it. Expensive software to give people safe access to corporate data.

I don’t have a problem with SAP commissioning research to back up its sales pitch. That’s fine and, anyway, sponsored research a standard marketing technique in the information technology industry. Basically, the report is a sophisticated advertising brochure to help shore up the business case for large companies to invest in SAP’s software.

My problem is the way the EIU has risked its integrity, and by extension, the integrity of its prestigious newspaper in order to pull a few dollars out of SAP’s marketing budget. I’ve always placed a lot of trust in the EIU’s work, particularly the country reports. Here’s how the EIU describes itself on its website:

The Economist Intelligence Unit has one of the largest and most experienced country analysis teams in the world. Our 100 full-time country experts and economists, based in London, New York and Hong Kong, have a thorough grounding in economics, politics, risk and industry. Most have lived and worked in the region they cover; many are fluent in local languages; and three out of four have advanced degrees. To ensure that this expertise remains fresh and up to date, each country analyst focuses on two or three countries, and visits them regularly.

I’m not claiming the EIU perjured itself in the SAP report. I’m not qualified to judge and, anyway, the document is too dull to fully deconstruct. But there’s a thin ethical line between taking money from SAP to write what amounts to a glorified advertisement and taking money from, say, North Korea, to write a report about the glorious success of that country’s missile industry.

As the EIU states on its website:

The Economist Intelligence Unit is a leading provider of country, industry and management analysis. Our mission is to provide executives with timely and reliable analysis for making successful global decisions. Any time, and anywhere, our latest intelligence provides the knowledge you need to inform your strategy and support your business.

You don’t need to be a genius to figure who’s business the Enterprise Knowledge Workers report is supporting.

The smart thing would be for the EIU to establish a separate, but related brand, for its, er, more commercially-oriented research.