Phil Fersht (ex. AMR) started an interesting conversation on his Outsourcing Blog: Horses for Sources with a post titled The great analyst firewall: will banning analysts from blogging damage the traditional research business, or help create an entirely new one?
The “rock star” analyst had arrived. People paid good money to spend time with these people, to hear their views, use them as a sounding-board, or just to be associated with them. And their growing corporate stables certainly didn’t refuse the increasing moneys that came rolling in off the back of their growing relationships and influence. The rock stars created buzz and drove the industry, challenging both vendors and customers to innovate and transform business models.
However, like anything else, corporates like to monetize their brands to the max, scale their businesses and drive down their costs. It’s business economics one-on-one, and the big analyst firms are no different.
And its consequence:
We want Bill, not Ben
Having their clients say “I want Bill, not Ben” was (and still is) infuriating to the analyst firms. They want their clients to pay the same for the 28-year old fresh from her MBA, than they did for the rock stars of yesteryear. And they’re currently succeeding, as there aren’t too many alternatives right now.
Now, as a self-confessed “ex-Rockstar” puts it, it doesn’t go without implications for the business model, and maybe this is why Forrester, but also Gartner restricts analysts to blogging on their coverage areas to their corporate site, while Ovum doesn’t even feature their analyst bios on their extranets:
A (now departed for vendor land) fellow ex-analyst at IDC used to say that most of the firms could never figure out how to deal with an analyst transitioning from labor to talent since you pay each of those people in very different ways. Talent drives revenues, but paying people as talent is bad for profit plans.
To me this is quite obvious: the result of analysts work (read when paid by their employers) is intellectual property. And since that IP is not only created during business hours (whatever that means nowadays), it rightly belong to the analyst firms -just like inventions and patents they might come up with. This is purely hypothetical because never has one ever heard of a patent filed by an IT analyst. (DISCLAIMER: yes, provocative statement, but who knows we might learn something cool from the comments of this posts?)
So, just get over it, who gives a damn anyway? BTW, check Josh’s comment in the thread and you’ll see the Forrester blogs debate has no raison d’être. Merv also blogger here about the different policies here, good wrap up with lots of quotes.
More intriguing are firms without a presence at all in the online conversation -I’d say they’re missing out, both on branding, influence, research validation, etc… There’s little evidence to back this up (cf. Gerry‘s comment).
So, where does it lead us? One sub-header gives up a clue to the real issue, and that’s way beyond blogging:
Aren’t analysts supposed to create buzz?
Well, maybe but not only. To me, an analyst’s job is, er how to say, to analyse. Big word, I know. Hard to spell too.
One very important aspect that Phil eludes is the actual process of generating research. Yes, it can be helped by social media but in the end everyone needs to solidify tag clouds into an end-product that can put up for sale. It used to be research notes, maybe it will be something else in the future but for now there are few other deliverables that have more weight (for the lack of another word) than a Gartner Magic Quadrant.
So is that another case of “can’t be fired for sticking with Gartner”? Or IDC, Forrester, Ovum, etc… Should AR professionals just keep to the safe choices, to the household brands and leave the noise from twitterville, the irrational exuberance of the blogosphere to their public relations colleagues, with their new and shiny social media hat?
For those large firms it sometimes feels though that while we have gained on one side in terms of rigorous research processes, transparency and consistency across the board (although some firms still struggle with those points) we have lost some of the thought leadership. I would dare to ask if too many processes and increased pressure on research target doesn’t make the resulting research less original and timely, more bland?
So have the mature IT analysts firms grown up to the point they can’t come up with some BHAT -Big Hairy Audacious Thought?
Some certainly seem to think that and started their blogs before they opened for business. There are wicked smart people out there, really clever folks who have broken the big firm shackles, others coming from left field. I’ve been in meetings with some and they even play well together, if you can harness that collective energy it can rock your world. Some execs like it, some not -it’s horses for courses.
The only problem is that there’s now so much opinion out there, so many blogs, that influence is more diffuse, harder to track -or even suspect sometimes. I don’t have anything against vendor-side analysts, they’re really helpful to vendors to get their messaging and GMT right. Procurement consultants are also part of the ecosystem, but their rants rarely amount to thought-provoking research, right?
It seems in the rush for everyone to have a conversation 2.0, people just forgot about content. Or insight for that matter. What’s the point of buzz if there’s no substance? Just buy Heat Magazine or any other rag for that. More seriously, while for instance Twitter is very helpful and conversations maybe interesting, as Duncan Brown puts it here:
If influencers are not online, then there’s no point in you trying to find them and interact with them there. Some influencers eschew online channels for communication, because of the time it diverts from other activities.
So being online and part of the conversation doesn’t mean you have something to say (self depreciating punt intended). Nor does it equates to a business model, not one that scales up anyway: behind the Altimeter exception, many independent analysts struggle selling their time because they don’t have the reach, the address book, the brand or the end-user sales force.
Where I’d like to leave you for now (and that’s a great start for the comment thread) is that it seems that at the large firms have lost some of thinking agility while growing up but they are still the influence kings when it comes to influencing deals.
On the other side, there are lots of very talented thinkers in the ecosystem but precisely because they are a lot, they don’t have the same brand and influence.
Key takeways and actions:
- IT vendors and users alike want thought-provoking research, and yes rock-stars (but without the diva attitude please). Check Tony’s comment in the thread…
- If you’re a research firm and not there, join the conversation -there’s a lot to gain in terms of influence and reach. Would you have a shop without a window? Unless you’re selling a certain class of litterature, but I wouldn’t put analysts reports in this category.
- Issues for AR: drinking from the fire hose (staying up to speed with blogs) and difficulty to “reverse the damage“, opinion consistency across a firm. Oh, and absence of draft review and live conference tweeting can quickly turn into an AR nightmare in some circumstances.
- Positives for AR include a more reactive commentary on announcements.
- Issues for analyst firms: manage brand and IP, egos while allowing thought leadership and individual opinions into the conversation, balance free content.
- Issues for analysts of larger firms: develop personal brand under the umbrella of a firm and abide by the policies.
- Issues for independent analysts: increase awareness and brand, be seen as a thought leader but bear in mind that this time spent doesn’t add up to the bottom-line.
24/2/10 @2316: made some minor updates, in green.
25/2/10: corrected Phil’s name.