Today we ask our probing questions to the well renowned Andy Butler (LinkedIn) just retired VP Distinguished Analyst at Gartner (Alumnus), who gives us his views on the the industry in 10 questions. Enjoy..
- How long have you been in the IT industry and where did you begin your
I can claim a 45 year unbroken period in the industry. I left school at 18 and immediately started working, as I was not convinced that a university course would be necessary for where I wanted to go. Back then it was still possible to get into a profession without a degree; something that is much harder to achieve these days. I was able to join Nielsen Research, who employed school leavers with decent grades to be fast tracked into professional roles. After a few months working in a research QA function, I found a role as an RPG II programmer on their IBM System 3 Model 10. I then followed a typical “IT apprenticeship” through programming, systems analysis and finally IT management roles that evolved into various software and hardware product marketing positions at HP prior to joining Gartner in 1997.
- What are your opinions of the IT Analyst Marketplace and where do you see it going now that you have retired?
When I left HP to join Gartner in 1997, my manager at the time asked me what I would do after being an analyst. It was a very interesting comment, as most people working in IT roles see themselves on a journey that will involve frequent role changes as their careers develop. But an analyst joins their company and probably stays in the same position for ever. Rather than have to hop from role to role, the analyst role stays firm, and the rest of the industry evolves in front of them – it’s like looking at an industry montage that is constantly morphing into something else. This is why longevity in the role is such an asset for an analyst – while it is often seen as the “kiss of death” in most other jobs! Ironically, the same applies to analyst relations professionals. The longer they are in their role, the more they understand the research eco-system and the greater an asset they become for their employer. But moving forward, analysts are not immune from the major industry shifts, and I expect to see more analysts re-pivoting their focus in order to maintain relevance and personal motivation.
- What was your typical day like and how would you like that to change for some of your ex colleagues?
It is ideal for analysts to be able to engage with both vendors and consumers, as that enables the analyst to receive the story from both sides. Client inquiries – be they end-user or vendor – are therefore “King”, and really take priority over other activities. A typical day could have up to four or five 30-minute calls. Everything else needs to be fitted around this – mainly vendor briefings, internal research community tele-meetings, research note creation and preparing presentations for conferences or consulting engagements. But market success for any company dictates a growing level of internal bureaucracy, which in turn leads to a more prescriptive working environment. This is a dangerous trend for analysts who need a degree of creative freedom to do their job properly. Satisfying the demand to reserve more and more time for inquiries – which might never happen – makes it harder for analysts to put themselves in the “zone”.
- Now, tell me an analyst horror story now that you have nothing to hide and lots of people to embarrass?
The worst experience – for me – in the entire 20 years as an analyst occurred a decade or so ago, when three of us attended a vendor event in Berlin. I won’t name names, as things became very messy and one person (not me) was most unfairly treated as a result. There were maybe 15 analysts in total at this one day briefing, and right from the outset things did not go well. The event was very well organised by an expert AR crew, but there was no corporate message. We all assumed the event was planned to impart some major news, and the decision was then taken to postpone the revelation. Rather than cancel the whole thing (which would have made sense), the vendor soldiered on and delivered assorted trivia that just did not justify the travel. The whole group of analysts became very antsy and annoyed.
To make matters worse, a new senior manager had joined the vendor – determined to show his peers and us how wonderful he was. But things really went south after lunch, when all the analysts had one-on- one sessions booked. From the start of the Gartner session, this new “demigod” manager made it clear he had zero time for analysts. We tried one line of questioning after another, and his responses were defensive, sarcastic and downright confrontational. Eventually, I refused to continue and walked out of the session, and sat the rest of the afternoon out. This manager went berserk – enraged that a lowly analyst would dare to walk out on him. The event sadly damaged the Gartner relationship with the vendor for a while. It led to demands for Gartner to fire me. Worst of all, it had severe ramifications for the excellent AR folks, who were totally blameless. Luckily for the vendor, the demigod was soon gone – off to preach his poisonous management style at another unfortunate vendor.
- Where do you see Gartner going now they have killed off most of the competition and are moving into more business functions with CEB?
Any market or industry needs competition to create a fertile business environment; without someone to fear, or respect, or admire, we become fat, lazy and complacent. The IT research market is no exception. Ideally, both vendors and end-users should engage with one or more “big” research companies, like Gartner, but also engage with multiple smaller research houses that will be more specialised by geography, vertical or market practice. No research house – big or small – can ever get things constantly right. Only by engaging with two or more advisors can people look out for conflicting guidance that means at least one advisor is wrong. The advantage for a very large research house is that when times are economically tight, vendors and end-users are more likely to jettison the specialist advice rather than the larger, more generic advisor. But I would never advise anyone to rely on a single research house – Gartner included – for all of their guidance. The acquisition of CEB creates new competitive dynamics for Gartner, where the company will meet new rivals who also have considerable reputations in their own respective fields. Meanwhile, there will always be gaps or weaknesses in the Gartner portfolio that existing or aspiring research operations can and should exploit.
- What advice would you give to up and coming aspiring analysts joining Gartner or any other research firms?
Being an analyst is the best job in the world; but it isn’t for everyone. Analysts stay in place for a very long time; often for the rest of their working career. If they do move on, it is usually to join a vendor in some sort of “evangelist” role. Smart analysts never burn their bridges. It is quite normal for analysts to “drop out” to work for a vendor for a few years, and then come right back in to the same company. There is no stigma in doing this; in fact, the experience will often be seen as beneficial. And if an analyst “escapes” a big research house like Gartner, before they know it they might end up back in the fold as smaller research houses are brought on board! When openings have arisen, I have often thought of people for whom I have a great professional regard, but discounted them as likely analysts.
It helps to be cynical, but don’t worry – the job will make anyone cynical soon enough! To me, analysts have to be a bit maverick, and that is a trait you cannot switch on and off. If your job teaches you to spot vendor BS a mile off, you will recognise Gartner management BS just as quickly. So as the dead hand of bureaucracy and political chicanery becomes ever stronger in our industry, analysts need to know how to play the system. For people like myself, I had reached that happy medium where I had amassed enough money to retire (I think!), but still have enough health and energy to enjoy it. But I have been hugely impressed by the calibre of people coming into the analyst community of late, and this make me absolutely confident that our business value is set to endure.
- Any favourite AR professional you’d like to mention?
As I stated earlier, AR professionals mature in their role, just as analysts do. I consider many AR folks to be among my most valued friends, and it is hard to single any one person out. To me, analysts and AR folks are two sides of the same coin. We share many common attributes, and there should maybe be more examples of analysts becoming AR folks, and vice versa. So I see people like Jos Baltes (HPE), Signe Loenberg (Loenberg AR), Irene Mirageas (Dell), Garrett Mulcahy (Teradata) and Keith Clarke (SUSE) being huge and enduring assets to the companies they serve; but I also see superb people coming through with many more years to give, such as Michael Rennett (Red Hat) and Anna Loftin (Dell).
- Tell us about one good AR practice you have experienced or one good AR event you have attended?Many analysts regard AR folks to be “gatekeepers”, who exist to be a barrier between them and the vendor contacts they really want to reach. Maybe a few AR people do fall into that category, but I think they are a minority. AR people do not exist to blindly persuade analysts to accept a vendor position – even when they privately know that position is garbage. Let the marketing people worry about that nonsense! To me, AR folks are more like a referee, and referees only succeed when both sides respect them. Nowhere does this become more obvious than when a contentious document like a Magic Quadrant is in progress. A gate can open two ways, and quality AR people become a vital interconnect that also protects the analysts from the over-zealous enthusiasm of fanatical engineers and marketing people. I think it is always important for analysts to remember that for every messy escalation that consumes time and energy, a good AR person has probably fended off five or six other situations that could have become just as fraught. A great AR person will know which battles are worth fighting, and when it’s best to advocate a truce between the analyst and the marketeers.
- Is there another analyst whose work you rate highly outside of Gartner and one from Gartner?
I always prefer to look out the windscreen rather than through the rear view mirror; Gartner has so many great analysts and they do not need a plug from me here. But what pleases me the most is the great new blood coming in. I would single out Scot MacLellan, who is a superb analyst based in Rome, and Daniel Bowers, who is based in Houston, as great examples of why Gartner will continue to be a formidable influence on this industry.
But the beauty of the analyst community is that virtually all analysts respect and admire each other. We may play for different “teams”, but there is a camaraderie in this community that is have found hugely rewarding. Again, it’s hard to single out one or two when there are so many that contribute massively to the market. But analysts like Tony Lock (Freeform Dynamics) and Clive Longbottom (QuoCirca) always impress me with the breadth of market coverage that they are able to expertly address.
- What are you going to do now you have retired to fill your time? Would you be interested in still dabbling in the IT industry and a part timer in between your holidays and posting jokes on facebook?This industry fascinates me as much today as it did a decade ago, and we all know the degree of radical change is just accelerating year by year. So I am sure I will stay just as nosy and inquisitive going forward. It will be great to keep in touch through the IIAR, and vicariously follow the exploits of analyst friends as they continue their work. I am dreading the next really big event, like a major acquisition. I will know that email, Lync and phone links are buzzing with ideas and speculation about what might happen or what should happen; I will also have a bunch of opinions, and I will be jealous that there is no way to get those across. But I will enjoy being able to lead life at a pace that suits me, and dabbling is a great word to explain my hopes and ambitions. My goal is to be involved in the odd project here and there, while also allowing me to take time out to travel and enjoy life. That would be an ideal medium.
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