Your Plain English Guide to Gartner Magic Quadrants

A few weeks ago, WPEngine purchased StudioPress. This was a major move in the WordPress space. This also seemed like a simple move. One of the biggest hosting companies was taking over biggest theme developer. More customers, more money, more growth.

But I’m part of a popular Slack channel for WordPress developers and I saw was confusion. WPEngine said they purchased StudioPress to become a “DXP”. That was unexpected. Lots of the terminology used to describe the deal was new to the developers:

What is a DXP? A DXP appears inside a magic quadrant?!?

In this guide, I’ll try and explain DXPs, magic quadrants, WCMs and more. What does this jargon mean? How do these phrases help explain WPEngine’s acquisition of StudioPress, and other big moves made by open source companies?

What is the key jargon?

There are three phrases you’ll see often in this guide:

Magic Quadrants: these are technology reports published by a company called Gartner.

WCM: Web Content Managent. This is Gartner’s way of saying “CMS” (Content Managent System).

DXP: Digital Experience Platform. This is a relatively new phrase and is perhaps the most difficult to define. Think of it as a company’s whole, integrated platform across websites, apps, and other devices. These used to have the wonderful name of “Horizontal Portals”! Gartner defines the phrase this way:

An integrated set of technologies, based on a common platform that provides a broad range of audiences with consistent, secure and personalized access to information and applications across many digital touchpoints. Organizations use DXPs to build, deploy and continually improve websites, portals, mobile and other digital experiences.

What are Gartner Magic Quadrants?

You can think of Magic Quadrants as the Oscars of technology. Once every year, in great secrecy, Gartner releases a report for each industry. Just as with the Oscars, there is one winner, several runners-up, and a whole lot of losers.

There are dozens and dozens of magic quadrants. Gartner reviews everything from application testing to warehouse management. They even used to have magic quadrants for printers. Back in the day, if you wanted to know whether Xerox or Canon had the best inkjet printers, Gartner could hook you up. Here’s the full list of what Gartner covers now.  

The idea behind the Magic Quadrant comes from Gideon Gartner, after whom the company is named. Back in the 1970’s, Gideon was one of the top technology analysts on Wall Street. The quadrants first started appearing in the 1990’s.

Each industry is divided into 4 sections: Challengers, Leaders, Niche Players, and Visionaries. Spoiler alert: it’s not good to be a niche player. You want to be the top-right corner of the quadrant.

Companies get placed in the quadrant according to “Ability to Execute” and “Completeness of vision”.

research methodology gratner

Which quadrants are relevant to me?

If you’re reading this blog, I assume you’re interested in the web and open source. So these are three quadrants you’ll probably care about:

  • DXP
  • WCM
  • eCommerce

Here are the latest annual quadrants for those three industries. Click here for a larger version of the image.

dxp wcm ecommerce

How do companies get listed on Gartner?

First, you need to be in an industry that Gartner covers. There are no quadrants for your latest, fancy Javascript framework, or your favorite WordPress plugin. Gartner is focused on slower-moving industries. summed it up nicely:

Gartner’s 11,000 clients are the largest organizations in the world and Gartner acknowledges that 80 percent of them are late-adaptors. They are much more likely to buy from HP, IBM, or Oracle than from a start-up with the most cutting-edge solution.

Second, the list of names is generated by Gartner’s researchers. The researchers add new companies if the consistently hear about them from user feedback. Gartner is reactive – its not picking products that could be used by enterpise customers. Gartner is picking products that are being used by enterprise customers. It absolutely helps to have ongoing relationship with Gartner and hire them for advice. It’s not quite pay-to-play, but many vendors do pay Gartner for all sorts of services. This is a deep-dive on Gartner’s business model. Perhaps the best description I’ve read is from David Rossiter. His opinion is that companies can’t pay to be listed, but those that do work closely with Gartner have an advantage in positioning themselves.

Finally, the companies need to work closely with Gartner during the review process. Companies need to prove they qualify – there’s a stringent list of requirements. They also need to provide a ton of feedback. Gartner interviews staff at each company and many of their customers. You can see customer reviews on the Gartner site. Here are the WCM reviews.

Are open source projects considered by Gartner?

No, they aren’t. Gartner almost always lists companies, rather than projects. The listing critera present all sorts of hurdles, including a minimum revenue requirement. The 2017 DXP report is brutally honest about this. Drupal was dropped from the report because:

It did not meet the revised inclusion criteria for this report. As an open-source organization, not a commercial vendor, Drupal did not fulfill the $7 million annual revenue requirement.

Are open source companies considered by Gartner?

Yes, and they’re increasingly successful. Acquia were first listed on the WCM quadrant in 2012 and Automattic arrived in 2013. The image below shows you every WCM quadrant from 2012 to 2018. You can see that both Automattic and Acquia are doing well. This year, WPEngine earned an entry for the first time. Click here for a larger version of the image.

wcm2012 2018

What’s the point of the Gartner Magic Quadrant?

The key value of Gartner reports is that they get read and acted on. IT management at large organizations use Gartner reports to short-list vendors for large projects. We’ve focused on the Magic Quadrant, but the reports do provide in-depth research on each industry.

As a result, companies in Gartner’s reports do get more business. Dries described it this way:

Analyst reports like the Gartner Magic Quadrant are important because they introduce organizations to Acquia and Drupal … If you want to find a good coffee place, you use Yelp. If you want to find a nice hotel in New York, you use TripAdvisor. Similarly, if a CIO or CMO wants to spend $250,000 or more on enterprise software, they often consult an analyst firm like Gartner.

The companies also use the quadrant as a marketing tool. You’ll find 1,000’s of landing pages where you can give up your name and email address in exchange for a copy of the report. Try searching Google for phrases related to Gartner and magic quadrants. Almost every company in the quadrant will be aiming to catch your eye:

gartner wcm

Are there alternatives to Gartner?

Yes, but none of them have nearly the same standing in the market. Real Story GroupG2 CrowdCapterra and others provide comparison reports for similar industries. The closest alternative is probably Forrester Wave. The Forrester reports even look like the magic quadrants. If you’re in the top-right corner, you’re winning. Here’s Forrester’s latest chart for content management:

forrester wave

So why did WPEngine buy StudioPress?

WPEngine hopes that the StudioPress acquisition can help it move up and to the right.

WPEngine didn’t buy StudioPress simply to improve their appearance on the DXP magic quadrants. A good report from Gartner is not a goal itself, but it’s a very useful stepping stone. StudioPress has tools that can help WPEngine keep moving towards the enterprise.

Magic quadrants are the Oscars of the tech world. And the Gartner analysts are the members of the Hollywood Academy. It’s not a fair, democratic, or transparent process, but if you want to win, you have to sweet-talk these people.

Companies like Automattic, Acquia, and WPEngine realize that they need Gartner.

You can expect to hear more discussion of Gartner at open source conferences. More open source companies will appear in the magic quadrants. And you will see a lot more jargon around DXP and “digital experiences”. Don’t believe me? Here are WPEngine and Acquia’s homepages:

digital experience


  • Steve Burge

    Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.

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Jorge Montoya
5 years ago

Thanks Steve! Very interesting read.
It’s not about money, but companies at the end want to increase sales with that prestige. So it’s pretty much about the money.

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