Analyst, anal-yst, who cares?

The analyst world is changing as demand for information changes. Phil Fersht thinks it's long overdue for a major overhaul. I agree.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Phil Fersht, CEO Horses for Sources drops a long awaited bomb on the analyst business. Whether you think such things are 'inside baseball' or not, there is no question that the analyst model is changing as is anything that has a media component.

I can't count the number of times in recent past where people have asked: "What should we call you...analyst, consultant, media, press, blogger, videographer - something else?" I usually respond with "My name and then describe what you think I know. That's enough." Let other people figure out which pigeon hole they want to drop me in on any particular day. Regardless, Phil raises valuable points that can be summarized with his paragraph headings as follows:

  • Short-term attention-span theater has taken over, and some analyst firms are oblivious
  • There’s too much “research” being produced that’s not telling us anything new
  • Too many analysts are following the hype and avoiding reality
  • Buyers don’t read research these days. Fact
  • The large analyst firms lack rock-star visionaries

It will come as no surprise that I agree with all Phil's points and have called attention to most of them at one time or another. Many analysts read this kind of critique and take it personally instead of understanding that what we're talking about are firm and industry level problems that are not going away. If anything, things are getting worse as vendors find new voices I call anal-ysts, prepared to pitch up in what is an even more obvious pay for play set of scenarios.

If you've seen them you'll know what I mean: pseudo-scientists, stat whores, one trick ponies, buzzword bingo compliant at every turn with a phraseology that reads like someone trying to get their head as far up the corporate rear end as is conceivably possible. It's not pretty but you know what? Some vendors love it. It is not sustainable because sooner or later the really smart people knock them down and trust evaporates from those who play that silly game.

There was a case I saw recently where it was blatantly obvious that the person writing had no real clue what they were talking about. Instead, they had all but sucked up anything the vendor said as gospel without trying to offer guidance beyond a personal approbation. You can get away with that for a period of time but sooner or later, someone smart calls that type of thing for what it is - BS.

Instead, what I am seeing is the notion of the 'influencer' taking on greater prominence among vendors eager to get attention. I'm not sure that works any better because it begs the question: 'Influencing what precisely?' There is a variation on this: a genuine need for people to act as kingmakers - connectors if you will among different groups at different points in time for things that important. One example might be a developer requiring expertise in a specialist are. Another example might be a buyer looking for specific industry experience. Phil puts it this way:

My firm, HfS, couldn’t survive alone merely peddling research reports – we have to deliver products, data and networking opportunities our clients need, to help them do their jobs better.  Research has to be about bringing together the voices shaping industry, providing real data to help guide decision-making, and also forcing people to stop, think, and take notice.

Those who cultivate broad relationships have the keys to those kingdoms - hence the idea of a kingmaker. For my own part, I didn't realize it until recently but I'm a firm believer in something akin to the Redmonk model. In my case give 80% away and the 20% will pay for it all plus a decent amount of change.

People value expertise and broadly synthesized knowledge. What should come out is reasoned and balanced argument that has the air of genuinely nuanced and insightful experience, even when taking strong positions. If you cannot demonstrate that in the public domain but are relying only on a brand then what assurance is there of quality or value in the long term? It's not about price, but about the quality of your domain knowledge and connections that count in the value delivered in those 20% engagements that pay the bills.

The notion that because Gartner/Forrester/IDC or whomever happens to be popular at the time and says X, therefore it must be right, are well and truly over. The smart firms on both the buyer and seller side have understood this. As have the smart financial analysts. Last week I chaired a lunch for investors and investment analysts at one of the world's largest brokerages. At the end, my host said: "It makes a refreshing change to hear from someone who is not paid to trot out the corporate line." I'd never thought of what I do in those terms. As an aside, now you know where a lot of their information is coming from - right?

But at the same time, individuals do not scale and so another trend I see is for informal groups of like minded individuals coming together at appropriate times. Brian Sommer and I did that recently in preparing our SAP Business ByDesign report. We may not enter into another joint engagement for some time (or ever) but that matters less than the ability to easily step across brands where it makes sense.

Other colleagues send over survey outlines looking for sense testing and additional input or perspectives. Ray Wang and Frank Scavo at Constellation have been doing that for some time. (Disclosure: I'm a board advisor to Constellation but with no financial consideration.) Vinnie Mirchandani actively solicits input for his new book on innovation. The list goes on with many of us maintaining mentoring engagements as a way of keeping our own heads straight. In past times, we would have been locked behind our corporate brands unable to take the best of what is really out there. Today, those of us prepared to engage do that stuff for free because it is in our interests to get smarter by learning from others. I recently said this on Twitter: "As I spend more time with smart peeps the more I realize how limited my knowledge is." It's true for all of us because no-one knows it all, dispute illusions to the contrary.

You might think that large corporations would only want to deal with large 'trusted' brands. Not any longer. They understand that knowledge doesn't reside in firms but in the minds of smart individuals. Those same smart individuals are figuring out what this brave new world will look like and how best to navigate its waters. It's going to be a fun ride.

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