Telescope-Analysing the Analyst:The WHY axis

By : |July 31, 2012 0

BIRMINHHAM, USA:
Dom Cobb: What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?

Arthur: Uh, what Mr. Cobb is trying to…

Dom Cobb: An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood. That sticks, right in there somewhere. (he points to his head)

                                 

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Saito: For someone like you to steal?

Arthur: Yes, in dream state your conscious defences are lowered and it makes your thoughts vulnerable to theft. It’s called extraction.

Well, Arthur has a point. You never know where it really starts.

May be even the ‘inception’ of some products, tsome echnology trends and those budget strings in the IT world has something to do with the mystery force of dream-influencers around?

Analysts, oh those people with sharp eyes!

They may appear to be sitting on the sidelines, on the fence of a coach; sometimes urging, sometimes screaming for the men in the field to run right. But some of them change the game with just a whisper, in their own subtle ways. After all, there is always a sub-conscious to the conscious? I don’t find it stupid to ask.

It would have been easy to cut a corner to some questions. Not something that Richard would do though, having handled the corners of some almost-worshipped quadrants, for many well-heeled years now.

So, while it might seem all schadenfreude fun initially when you get to quiz an analyst, things have their way of taking a ‘right’ turn. With the ease of a skating-board-wielding teenager, he mows the grass around wild spots like Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, its other side, the pay-to-play assumption, errors that analysts and their models are prone to, what to listen and when to tune out when consulting an analyst; and how Indian CIOs should interpret everything at a different frequency.

Richard Stiennon, a seasoned analyst now ploughing back his experience of gleaning the right things at IT Harvest; and of course, author of a recent book ‘Up and to the RIGHT: Strategy and Tactics of Analyst Influence’ shares some pages from his mind here.

As one reviewer poignantly remarked, he takes the mystery out of Gartner with this book. Having been there-done that-lived them, he brings a crisp, freshly-baked, well-stirred taste to the world of IT’s Fortune Cookies. Dig in.

What inspired you to write this book? Did it entail anything that you have not been able to vent out otherwise given your professional constraints?

As a former Gartner analyst developing my independent practice I realized that many of my vendor clients engaged with me to help craft their Gartner strategies. I had been thinking about writing a book on analyst influence for several years but did not start until Gene Kim, the founder of Tripwire, heard what I did and was so enthusiastic that I got to work.

If you were to share five highlights out of its pages, what would they be?

Gartner is not a pay-to-play paradigm. It is however, a pay-to-influence situation. You have to have a strategy for moving your dot UP and to the RIGHT. Then you must have a multi-year plan for getting your position in the Magic Quadrant to reflect reality. Engage your analysts in every way possible. Make your analyst famous.

Any sharp reactions so far?

The reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. The greatest shock, that I am still struggling to understand, is that the greatest praise is coming from analysts!

Many IT decision makers rely heavily on the analyst community. Is it worth hanging upon every word they say, every trend they predict and every company they feel is worth betting on? Are today’s analysts adequately poised to forecast the future or advise on heavy IT Budgets?


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Analysts, especially Gartner analysts, are well positioned to see future trends. They talk with end-users every day of the year. But, I believe that Gartner has been systematizing their processes to the detriment of future-forward thinking. Analysts are more likely to be conservative in their predictions. So, do not make big bets just on an analyst’s word. But do take into account what they say as long as you realize their perspective.

Can it be confidently presumed that an analyst report today is objective enough for betting one’s money on? What about subjectivity due to one’s vendor clients? Or confirmation bias? Or plain human prejudices? Or wrong extrapolations? Flawed hypotheses? Sampling error? May be even some subliminal advertising? Wrong use of influential power?

All of these are present and thus an analyst report cannot be treated as a shortcut to technology decisions. The analyst’s opinions and findings should be taken into account and help to educate on the breadth of a market but the details still need to be researched by talking to the vendors, reference accounts, and in-house evaluations. There are cases of Leaders in the MQ going out of business, demonstrating that the analyst was not keeping an eye on the market or an ear to the ground.

Trends that are been whipped out of analyst reports can also be a Red Herring for the industry, pushing the real problems or issues under the carpet. How do you infer this comment?

I agree, the analysts,like the rest of us, can get caught up in the excitement and coverage of a new trend and not see that it is over-hyped and won’t have long term value. Remember artificial intelligence (AI)? Telepresence? ATM for networking or OS2 for desktops? All overhyped technology that would have been bad bets. (Telepresence is happening but thanks to Skype, Google, and Apple, not the big IT vendors.)

Is the analyst community moving in the right direction, especially with incidents like Institute for Industry Analyst Relations’ reaction against IDC, step-motherly neglect of second-tier analysts, NDAs with vendors, consulting vs. research conflict, etc? Any relevant comments on Oracle under Fire and the consequent angst by Ellison, or the suit by ZL Technologies?

The traditional analyst community and the way their insights are packaged and sold are under fire. Firms like GLG for investors and GigaOM and Ombud for technologists are exploring new models that will probably eventually be incorporated in the Gartner and Forrester business models. I think Larry Ellison eventually made peace with Gartner after he blew up at Betsy Burton for her controversial report. I don’t know the inside story at ZL Technologies, but I see they have new marketing management after their failed lawsuit against Gartner and they are touting their placement in the Magic Quadrant now. I also notice that the analyst they named in their suit is no longer with Gartner. I will be tracking that story down!

How do you reckon the current analyst landscape? Is the game all about big analyst firms or also about individual tangents or small ‘disruptive’ boutique firms?

It’s pretty much the big firms, Gartner, Forrester, IDC, and Ovum that have the market share. The 650 smaller firms, like mine, can have very influential analysts but even large companies cannot afford to retain the experts in every field. The big firms are a one-stop-shop.

Is the current fleet of tools being harnessed for driving into the right trends strong enough? What should or rather how much should an Indian CIO make of models like Gartner Magic Quadrant, specially with the ‘MQ Pay to Pay premise’?

CIOs in India should pay attention to the Gartner MQs and other research reports but realize that they are written primarily by Western analysts for US and EU markets. India has unique differences. India can profit by leapfrogging the practices at late-adapter companies in the US and Europe. Gartner analysts can give guidance but only if Indian firms are in mimic-mode. If they are cutting edge and able to leverage India’s vast tech resources they probably do not want the expense of the big IT vendors.

Any take on this comment by Gartner’s Lydia Leong, who, by the way, left a very good review of your book: "The Magic Quadrant is ultimately a graphical representation of a thought process; it is not a function-point analysis."


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While the Gartner analysts want everyone to think as Lydia does, the reality is that IT buyers use the MQ as an absolute ranking of vendors. That is wrong but it is reality. So I agree with Lydia and encourage CIOs to treat the MQs as a starting place in their technology acquisition plans.

What should ideally work for clients? Giga model, where industry practitioners turn analysts or Forrester model, where research owls turn to analyst side?

I prefer the practitioner analysts to the journalist analysts but, given enough experience, anyone who is in the hot seat long enough can be a superb analyst.

Is it a Catch 22 spot that analysts can not drive action on disruptive technologies or is it because there is no appetite or gut-factor on the CIO side, an obvious lack of lighthouse breed here?

Great question, I think the problem arises from the fact that clients of large analysts firms, those that can afford the high fees, are 80 per cent late-adapters already. They are large and need to make careful technology decisions that will last for years. As even large enterprises become more agile they will begin to look for more cutting edge solutions and the analysts will be right their to advise them.

I hope this does not sound the wrong way but just curious enough to ask: Can an analyst’s job be reasonably automated’?

Not completely. But analysts suffer from information overload as much as anyone else. Tools are evolving that can automate the data gathering and distilling. There are even attempts to get end-user input using crowd sourcing. But you will always need analysts to absorb all that information and detect trends and then turn all of that into actionable advice.

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